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Even to this day, I think I get more nervous for 5k races than I do for half marathons or marathons. The margin of error is so small and the throttle is tapped at 150%, meaning the pain is relentless. I always feel like I’m getting ready to ride a rocket, holding on for dear life as I fight for oxygen and real estate as my feet search for maximum traction. As a coach, it’s often difficult to teach athletes how to hurt that hard, for that long. It’s why brain training is so necessary.
For most athletes, the pre-race prep starts the night before the event. This preparation is usually in the form of a big pre-race meal. The funny part is, I’ve seen athletes carb load beyond their need for races below 10k. Hey, we all love to eat and for some, it’s an excuse to OVER eat. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. Along with adequately fueling for each individual race distance, brain training needs to be a year round focus as well. I like to spend the last 5 weeks before an IRONMAN taper really working on my tolerance of race effort. By that time, my body is more than capable of executing the plan but my mind is a bit tired. This means the 7-hour training days are for mental toughness and nutritional testing. Brain training also applies if I’m getting ready for a 5k race. The body needs to be primed for the effort, but if the mind is weak, speed will be lost. The main fact remains, if you’re quitting early during training on a regular basis or fail to push limits, you’ll prevent breakthrough results when it matters. If your coach mentions corrections to form or other habits that will make you better, you can never relax. Progress comes in the form of marginal gains over time, meaning daily focus over months will add up to that 1 big day of glory.
Think of your mind body relationship. Next, think about the times you’ve been more motivated or performed better. I recently read an article that showed men and women will run 15% longer in duration on a gym treadmill if an attractive counterpart is near-by. Usually the word “can’t” should be replaced with “I don’t feel like it”. It’s easy to quit! Remember for that majority of athletes it’s a choice to back off the throttle. Heck, humans aren’t programmed to love the feeling of pain. Of course we’re going to naturally avoid it. However, for endurance athletes who are searching for the next personal best, a personal relationship with pain needs to be like white on rice. Limits must be known, that way it’s easy to note a breakthrough.
In order to develop brain training and the required mental tools you’ll need on race day you need to put yourself in the hurt locker during training.
In order to develop the required mental tools you’ll need on race day you need to put yourself in the hurt locker during training. I’m not talking about risking your life, but I’m saying you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Those who win races are dealing with the same amount of pain, however they channel it into speed. The winner is able to slow down less then his contenders.
If racing for an IRONMAN event you’ll need to spend some time building fatigue over a few days and then executing a long day at or above race effort. There are many ways to set up intervals that will prepare the body and mind, but all that matter is that the brain/body connection is made. When finally slowing down, ask if it was because it was too hot or because it “felt” too hot? If marathoners can race through Death Valley, ask yourself if it’s really “that” bad. After the session count how many times you talk or think about your session and notice the negative words you used. Did you complain about weather, nutrition, other athletes or lack of sleep? These little excuses grow like a plague in the mind, eventually crippling the hard work you’re capable of. A breakthrough is often 5 seconds away, when you want to quit the most. Just keep going, second by second until your mind has focused on something logic based, like running mechanics.
Also, race prep or brain training needs to start early, regardless of the level of anxiety. Avoiding a plan because of anxiety means you’ll have excuses post race, not podium pictures. Everything needs to make sense, adding to a well-rounded, primed speed machine. Common sense tells us to practice but our mind wants us to sleep in, get out of the heat or take a nap. Hit your race effort well before the race, usually in shorter, repeatable bursts. Over time, add time to those intervals and ask yourself what is motivating you to keep pushing? Start writing out your race plan now, identify your weak areas and focus on them daily. Make it fun, draw pictures and never let anything get in your way, not even yourself. Remember, you are pure potential!
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