Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mental Preparation for the First Race of the Season

The great Steve Prefontaine
With spring just around the corner, and the first race of the season just days away for some (myself included), its important to mentally prepare yourself for what lies ahead on the race course.  For many runners and athletes the first race of the season is typically a huge test to see where you're after months of off-seasion and pre-season training.  It will also act as an important benchmark to see where you're at for the races in the months ahead.

Devising your Race Strategy

For any race longer than a 5k its important to have a strategy that goes beyond "just run".  Going into the St. Patrick's Day 10k this weekend I've be thinking about how I want to warm up before the race, and in this case I plan to do about 1-2km of light running as close as possible to the race start time.  Then when the horn goes, I've thought carefully about what my target pace for the first few minutes will be, and at what point I'll hit the gas.

Its important to think about your target paces and race strategy in advance.  Think about what pace and time you know you can do, and then think about what pace and time you can push yourself to do.  Don't be afraid to set a realistic but aggressive target time/pace.  Remember, this is probably just a race to check in and see where you're at, so if you push yourself you'll either blow up and learn a valuable lesson about pacing, or you might just surprise yourself and blow away a personal best.

Get Ready to Dig Deep

Racing well is all about pushing your physical and mental limits, and the reality of this is that racing is tough, and its demanding.  You have to mentally prepare yourself to go to your limit, and then take a step beyond that limit and trust that your training has paid off.

When you're walking to work, or going for a short easy run in the days leading up to the race, put on some music and picture yourself at the mentally toughest part of the race.  Picture your feet hurting, your lungs burning, and your legs gassed, and then visualise how sweet it when that hurt goes away as your cross the finish line to your first sub 60 minute, or 50 minute, or 40 minute 10k.

Words to Race By

There is no shortage of catchy phrases to inspire or motivate you when you're in the thick of a race.  One fun little trick is to think of the one phrase, word, or name that rouses your spirit the most, and write it on the inside of your arm so that when the going gets tough, you know why you're doing this. 

Here are some of my favourites;
  • "Most people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts." - Steve Prefontaine
  • "Only think of two things - the gun and the tape.  When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other" - Sam Mussabini
  • "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place". - Lance Armstrong
  • "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure". - Marianne Williamson
  • "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice a gift". - Steve Prefontaine
  • Ad astra per aspera. - Latin phrase meaning, "to the stars, through hardship".
  • "Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great". - Steve Prefontaine

You Owe this to Yourself

If I can leave you with one thought before you hit the start line of your next race, its a thought that my friend Janelle Morrison left me with before I raced my first Ironman and yelled to me in the middle of the marathon of that race.  Its that we owe it to ourselves to give everything we've got to that race.  We owe it to the person who got up at 5am to run in the middle of January, to the person who passed on going for beers with friends to do a training run, to the person who thought they could never run 10k in less than an hour but was naive enough to try it anyways, and to the person who was motivated enough to train to get you to that start line.  We owe it to ourselves to give our very best and leave every ounce of energy out on the race course.

So as cheesy as this sounds, at your next race get out there, and be great.


  1. Not cheesy- awesome! Very, very good advice in here Raf! I'll take it with me to Fla! Rock that 10k out!

  2. That is some great wisdom Raf! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to watching Janelle at Wildflower in just over a month. :)