Notice anything about this runner…
Or this one…
Ah, yes, very good. She’s the same person. These pictures were taken months apart at different races. I found it oddly intriguing to see the same runner pictured twice. I happened to finish exactly one place in front of her both times. We didn’t run together either race. I barely know her. We have merely exchanged a friendly post-race, “Good job” and that’s it. The deal is, she has all of the qualities of a faster runner than I. With her gazelle-like stride, chiseled abs and petite form, you would undoubtedly peg her as the victor of any footrace between the two of us. At least that’s just what I thought when I closed in on and passed her in the final mile of the half-marathon pictured at top. No kidding. I’m Inching closer but saying to myself, “what the heck am I doing passing her?” I knew she was and is fast and that she’d even been featured as a top podium contender at that half-marathon race. And even though I finished a few seconds in front of her last time, when I saw her warming up before our recent 10-miler, in my mind I totally said, “Uh oh… She’s running. She must have just had a bad race last time. Today she’ll probably beat me.”
Can you believe the things that go through my mind?
But. I wonder if what went through my mind was precisely the same thing that went through hers? After all, I know she saw me, the giant runner-girl with poofy-curly hair, warming up too, and that I was the one who had months before finished in front. But this time I never saw her after the warm-up. I had no idea she was right on my heels. In fact, I didn’t even have a particularly great race. She had every reason to surge around me. I ran a slower pace for the 10 miles than I did for 13.1 miles just a few weeks ago. Yes, one should be able to run a shorter distance at a faster pace; however, I trained through this race and was running on heavy, high-mileage-fatigued legs. Had she known that maybe she wouldn’t have been so strategically positioned behind me? Maybe she would have had the mental confidence and courage to stay in front as she had for 95% of the first race? Who knows?
What I do know is that running local races you, more or less, run against the same people all of the time. I feel like I know half of the people in the state just because I run. This is both good and bad. Races are like a fun party with a few minutes (or maybe hours, depending) of self-inflicted pain, which only a runner can appreciate. At the same time, since you recognize the same people, you tend to calibrate your performance based off of those around you, whether subconsciously or, like me, very consciously. So many of our race miles are swayed by our mind; I recognize this and do my best to focus on my own effort.
Here are several ways to use the mind to your advantage in your next race:
- Focus: Have a detailed and focused race strategy. Go into your race with a plan and stick to it. Don’t let people around you throw your mind off course.
- Prepare: Race plans inevitably change, but that should not be because of the fast girl that shows up. Be prepared to alter your race plans due to inclement weather, illness or other unforeseen circumstances.
- Socialize: Train with people. The solitude of running solo is really nice, but every once in a while run with someone. The more that you run with others, the more you realize that people are people; we all have our good days and our bad days and the same goes with racing. You simply cannot gauge your success off of another’s previous performance.
- Endure: Have the resilience and strength to trust that you can improve; you can recover from injury; you can have a breakthrough race.
How about you, what do you do to stay tough mentally?