3 mental tricks to turn your race around
We've all been there. That moment halfway through a race, desperate to stop, the voices in our head telling us to quit. Fear not, because sports psychologist Dr Rob Bell has three mental tricks to turn your race around when the mental demons strike
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These moments can occur at any point in the race. At worst they occur in the middle of the race - long after the start but still far from the finish.
Every race distance is different but oftentimes your finish depends upon successfully managing and overcoming these moments when you race either goes south or is brought back from the brink.
We all hope that every race goes perfectly to plan, but it rarely pans out like that. In most events, there's tough times where you must dig for that second, third or even fourth 'wind'.
But remember, our brain’s predominant job is to keep us safe - it's not particularly interested in pushing through pain and hardship. These negative voices that arise mid-race as founded in the part of the brain merely hoping to remove the pain and keep you safe. It comes in very handy, but when you're looking for a PB, it needs to be momentarily silenced.
It’s a strong voice too, and it will win unless we have a mental game plan, so here are three simple mental tricks to draw upon turn your race around next time your mind goes south.
Try to be present during a race. Forget the goal or outcome - focus on the process instead
Mental trick #1: Right here, right now
The cause of stress mid-race often arises when we think too hard about the outcome. We are ruminating about our time, our finish, or our plan. But what if you're not quite on track, not feeling well or simply not having the day you planned for? Rather than the race becoming a grim slog, try to refocus.
Focus on being present in the here and now. Break the distance down and focus on solely the next mile. Use mantras that you can repeat to yourself. [Our 6 tips to nail motivational self-talk will help you out here].
Mental trick #2. Get to the tree
This mind game of 'get to the tree' is a way of refocusing on an immediate target ahead of you. Identify a landmark on the near horizon and look at nothing else. All of your focus needs to be on this goal. Just make it there. Once you reach it, readjust on another sight.
Mental trick #3. Focus on others
Olympic marathon runner Des Linden was going to drop out of the 2018 Boston marathon because the conditions were so bad and she was going through a rough patch early in the race. She told fellow US Olympian Shalane Flanagan at Mile six that she was going to drop, but also asked if Shalane needed anything before she did.
Next time you’re hurting mid-race, try focusing on someone else as a distraction technique
A mile or so later, Shalane wanted to use the bathroom and so Des decided to wait for her. Together they then joined back up with the leading pack.
It was Des who then got her second wind a few miles later and was in third place at the 20-mile mark. She went on to become the first American woman to win the Boston marathon in 33 years.
She achieved this because, when she most wanted to stop, she focused on someone else, not her own state.
In your next race or training session when you're in the well, encourage someone else, pick them up and boost their spirits - notice how it helps you out at the same time.
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Dr. Rob Bell is a sport psychology coach based in Indianapolis, Indiana. He works with athletes, coaches, and teams on building mental toughness. He has completed Ironman, marathons, and ultra-distance races. His book, NO ONE Gets There ALONE focuses on how we get outside of our own heads by focusing on others.