Mental preparation should be a big part of any sportsman’s arsenal but for endurance athletes being mentally strong is key. When you’re pushing into the 10th hour, 20th or even the next day of a race, you need to believe in yourself and you need to be able to conquer any sense of doubt.
It’s all well and good saying how important mental strength is, but how do you actually prepare for it? Unfortunately, there isn’t a one fits all solution. However, we want to share what works for us, and hopefully that can give you some ideas to try for yourself.
Where to start? List your goals (we love a good list). Now if you’re anything like us this will be a spectacularly long list. Start prioritising goals into short term and long term and use the short term aims to work towards your long term ones. This will give you targets and something to aim and aspire towards. Hunger for a goal will take you a long way!
Now for training and the tough part. Ever since we heard the quote “train hard, race easy” we were hooked on the idea. So you need to go out and run as far as you can as fast as you can right? Wrong. Push your training yes but be careful of over-training. What we have learnt from numerous times of over-training (we get carried away easily) is that pushing yourself really hard in training is great BUT make sure you schedule rest in afterwards.
A routine is great and a fantastic way to stick to your goals because it becomes normal. What happens when you shake up your routine? It’s tough. Shake up your routine every now and then to trick your body and your mind. It’s the little things like this that make all the difference.
Visualizing yourself finishing and racing well will help put you in a positive frame of mind. Picture yourself at the finish line and how incredible it will feel knowing how all that hard work, eating right and training has paid off. Another great visualisation technique is to think about a previous positive time in your life, whether that’s an achievement at work or a sporting feat it will encourage positivity. Not only will this increase confidence but also if you do it as you run it’s a great way of distracting yourself.
One of Meraki Outdoor’s favourite tips is to do a truly awful workout one week before a race. Now this needs to be a workout you are going to hate every minute of and something that really messes with your head. It could be something as seemingly easy as 100 burpees as fast as you can (trust us, done as quickly as possible this is a LOT worse than it first seems) to a brutal combo of squat thrusts and hill sprints. The idea behind this is to have something to look back on during the low moments of a race and think how even though this feels bad right now, it was a whole lot better than those burpees!
We always recommend training in the mornings as when you don’t, it’s easy to overthink your training and stress your day out. However as mentioned earlier, shaking up a routine is never a bad idea so mix things up. You could try training late in the evening and then again the following morning. I wouldn’t do this all the time but it can be used to simulate more work but allow your body a bit of rest. For example in the evening you might do squats and deadlifts to fatigue the legs and then go for a fast 10-20km run. This is taxing though and worth scheduling a rest day after this or at the most some light active recovery e.g. swimming.
The last mental preparation tip is hopefully an obvious one, but it’s all too easy to get caught out. Plan everything for the race; kit, how to get to the race, race nutrition etc. Sorting all of the admin early means no last minute worrying. If everything is sorted well in advance there will be less to worry about and sport shouldn’t be stressful!
So in short, our top tips are:
- Set goals
- Plan EVERYTHING
- Routine is the enemy
- Picture yourself crossing the finish line and how epic it will feel
- Remember those tough workouts to look back on in the low moments
You’ve trained hard, now race easy!