By Jannine Myers
A couple of years ago, when I attended the RRCA Coaching Clinic in Portland, Oregon, one of the questions asked by our instructor was, “How many of you think that the marathon challenge includes both physical and mental strength?” Every hand in the classroom went up, and yet our instructor pointed out a valid observation. We all pay great attention, he said, to our physical training, but very few of us give any thought to psychological training. This is not a write-up about how to develop mental strength, but it will hopefully provide some useful tips to help you mentally prepare on race day:
Self-Control is key to a strong performance. Learning to control your thoughts and emotions is difficult, especially if you’re like me and tend to allow negative (nervous) energy to start surfacing during the days leading up to your race. In our coaching class, we were taught that there are several aspects of being able to perform well under a variety of stress-producing circumstances:
- being able to accept criticism
- not being afraid to fail
- maintaining composure under stress
- being able to perform to your full potential during competition
In order to do these things you need to be able to:
- control and channel your emotions
- focus your concentration
- bounce back from setbacks
- deal with negative thoughts
Ideally, you want to be able to run with the attitude of an optimist! An optimist will encounter any problems on race day with the view that they can rise above them, rather than be overcome by them. In other words, learn how to turn the obstacles into challenges, or in the words of our instructors, “You can be a winner, or you can be a whiner!”
Furthermore, the greatest potential for a best performance takes place in an atmosphere of positive energy. Top performances by successful athletes are often thought to have occurred because the athletes have performed in the zone. The zone is described as a state of mind where an athlete is able to feel completely relaxed and highly motivated. Check out the following characteristics of being in the zone:
- Relaxed – your mind is calm and your body is ready to go.
- Confident – you don’t let a lapse in performance undermine your belief in your overall abilities; there is no fear because you have done the training and know that you’re capable.
- Completely focused – you are oblivious to everything else going on around you, consumed by the moment.
- Effortless – your mind and body work together perfectly, making even the most grueling and demanding task seem achievable.
- Automatic – there is no interference from your thoughts or emotions; if you think less you will achieve more.
- FUN – you feel a great sense of enjoyment!
- In control – you feel that you are in control of your emotions; your emotions do not control you!
I hope these final tips help to calm your nerves a little and perhaps even lead you to a great performance. But just remember, no matter who crosses the line ahead of you or behind you, you are ALL winners!