Scaling back mileage in the weeks leading up to race day can leave many runners antsy – and tempted to run to calm themselves. But doing unscheduled workouts during the taper (the last two to three weeks of your training) will only put your race at risk. So what’s an anxious runner to do? “Use the time to get mentally prepared.” says running coach Dean Hebert. The following tips will help reduce nerves and hone mental skills you can use on race day.
TRUST THE PROCESS
“Runners expect to feel invigorated during the taper, and if they don’t, they worry,” says Cindra S. Kamphoff, Ph.d., a specialist in the psychology of running and marathoning. “Remind yourself that you’ll experience the benefits of this rest period on race day.”
STUDY THE COURSE
The better you know the course, the more in control and excited you’ll feel. If you live near the race, drive the course or do some training runs on it. If you’re travelling, review course maps, watch videos, and read blogs and stories about the race to gain a stronger sense of the event.
“Neuroscience is finding that visualisation can reprogram the brain, creating a mental blueprint that directly aids performances,” says sports psychologist and fitness trainer, Greg Chertok. Spend five minutes daily creating a vivid image of your ideal race – see yourself on the course nailing your paces, taking in fuel, tackling tough spots, and hitting your goal.
Runners with high reserves of emotional energy respond better to the pressures of racing, says Chertok. So use the taper to recharge. Get extra sleep. Postpone high-pressure meetings. Minimise time with difficult colleagues or people who exhaust you, and spend time with people around whom you can relax. And do activities you enjoy – reading, going to the movies, cooking, downtime with the kids.
FOCUS ON THE FINISH
Prep your mind to get you through the race. Hebert recommends this drill: finish the last 400 metres to one kilometre of every workout fast, without stopping, not even a metre short, then examine what enabled you to do that. Did you focus on your form, use a power word, bargain with yourself, or visualise reeling in runners? Use that same mental tool on race day.
TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS
With one week to go, decide what you’ll wear, how you’ll get to the starting line, what your prerace dinner and breakfast will be, where to pick up your race number – all the logistical race details. “Having this planned out provides a sense of control,” says Hebert. “The more in control you feel, the more confidence you’ll have.”