Preparing mentally for a running race

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PeaceHealth is the title sponsor of the Bellingham Bay Marathon, on Sunday, September 29, so we’re focusing our attention these days on training our bodies and our minds. Whether you’re thinking about challenging yourself with a 5k or a full marathon, mastering the mental aspect of running will be key to your success.

What to do before race day?

It’s helpful to keep your mind quiet when running. Some experts advise repeating positive affirmations such as “relax, relax, relax,” or “soft is strong,” or “run strong, run long.” Find the words that work for you. As you get used to this mantra, you can use it on race day and it will be familiar to you.

Avoid negative self-talk. If you find that your stride is not smooth, don’t berate yourself. Just take the opportunity to correct your stride and get back into a good rhythm. When you start thinking about how tired you’re going to feel at mile two or mile 22, when you’ve only just begun, it can turn into a very long run. If you break up your run into manageable segments, it will seem easier, and you will get some mini victories as you run along.

Also, try to visualize the race wherever you may be training. As you prepare for your training run, go through, in your mind, what you will be thinking and doing prior to the race. As you run, thinking about running with others and other unique aspects of the course can help keep surprises at a minimum on the day of the race.

On race day

Try to go through your typical pre-training routines, so that everything seems familiar to you. Try to stay relaxed and control your breathing. Remember the mantra that you may have been using in your preparation runs and use it when you start getting nervous.

Focus on your race strategy. Try to stay in the moment and don’t think too far ahead. You’ve trained at a certain pace, and keeping that familiar pace will help. Run the race like you train.

Fatigue is not just in the body. We get fatigue signals from the brain well before fatigue in the body sets in. Think of the gas tank that warns you when the tank is nearly empty, well before you run out of gas. Don’t let the brain fool you into thinking you’re tired before you are. When you start feeling fatigue setting in, you can address it directly, and say, “Hello, fatigue, I can’t talk with you now, I have to finish this race.”

If you try running at 100 percent, you’ll get tenser. Try running around 90 percent. This will help you stay relaxed, knowing that you still have something left. If you are feeling tense, try smiling, even if you don’t feel like it.

After the race

After running a race, you will look back on some successes and some things you wish you had done better. Make sure to take note of both. Regardless of the distance completed, it is an accomplishment to finish any portion of the race. Allow yourself to enjoy this moment, and revel in sharing it with hundreds of others in the community.

We look forward to seeing you at the Bellingham Bay Marathon on Sunday, September 29. Register at bellinghambaymarathon.org and get ready to seize the day; run the bay!

Sneha Patel, DO works with PeaceHealth Medical Group Family Medicine in Bellingham.

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