7 Mind Games for Long Runs and Races


The mental challenge of long runs and races can be just as tough (if not more difficult) as the physical demands of the distance. Here are some mental games and strategies that can improve your confidence, help you stay focused, and even boost your performance.

1. Use visual cues.  Thinking of a certain symbol or image can trigger positive emotions and help you stay focused. You might want to picture an elite runner running effortlessly or an animal that’s fast or ferocious.

Or, picture a loved one’s face to help you push through a rough patch.  If you’re running for a particular cause or charity, picture a logo or another image that you associate with it to keep you inspired.

2. Dress for success.  When you want to feel confident for a first date or a job interview, you’ll wear clothes that look and feel good, right?  Use the same strategy for your big races. Have a go-to power running outfit that makes you feel like one tough runner.  (Of course, don’t forget the golden rule of racing attire: Nothing new on race day.  Do test runs in your power outfit first.)

3. Strike a power pose.  As you’re waiting at the starting line, don’t slouch or crouch down. Stand straight and tall. You’ll look more confident and start your race feeling that way. This advice also applies for during the race, too. Running with good posture will help you stay positive and also prevent low back pain later in the race.

4. Use a mantra. If you let negative thoughts, such as “I feel tired” or “I’m never going to finish this race”, creep in, they’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep saying a phrase such as, "I feel good" or "I'm feeling better". You'll eventually start to believe it. Repeat positive words such as "strong" and "believe" and "tough" to keep the negative and fearful thoughts away.

5. Distract yourself using associative techniques. Associative techniques include paying close attention to what you're doing -- your stride, your posture, or how you're breathing. Do a total body check, starting with your head. Make sure you’re looking up, not down at your feet. Relax your shoulders, keep your back straight, and don’t hold any tension in your arms, wrists, and hands. Make sure that your footfalls are straight and that you’re breathing deep.

6. Or, try dissociative techniques. Disassociation is when you focus on something external to keep your mind from thinking about physical pain. Try imagining that you're somewhere completely different, such as running on the beach or just starting an easy run on your favorite trail.

7. Have a plan.  Be prepared for all types of scenarios that could unfold during a race. Before the race, think about what you’ll do if it rains, if it’s windy, or if your pacing plan goes out the window. Being ready for those what-if scenarios will help you stay focused and not fall apart if something unexpected does happen.

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