It’s funny how when you get in the final taper for the big race, and you finally have time to sleep, your brain refuses to let you do so. When the miles are high, and you want to sleep standing up, you can’t because you have to train. Then you get to the stretch when you should be able to relax, and your brain wants to pester you with race worry. The joys of racing!
Over the years I’ve had plenty of races that were really important to me. The final stretch can be brutal on the mind and can cause you to do silly things. I’ve found myself doing way more than I should, thinking that I can increase my training while others slacked off. Despite knowing better, I tend to forget the process.
When you find yourself with a little extra nervous energy, and you’re looking at such low mile totals in the log, you must resist the urge to push. When you put in the work leading up to the race, you see the results on race day. You can undo all that work by straining yourself in the end.
This energy can still be directed toward your race, but perhaps in a different way. Having a strong race plan is just as important as having a solid training plan. If you know the pace at which you want to run for each segment of the race, it will help you when things start getting messy. Knowing your pace doesn’t mean listening to your watch either. Know how each gear should feel and when you want to be in that gear during the race.
When I’m visualizing my race, I picture how I should feel at certain points and how much discomfort I should feel at that point. I may go from “I can hold this another couple miles,” to “focus or you’ll choke to death on a GU,” to “twisting my ankle and stopping right here would be an upgrade over the current level of pain” throughout the course of the race. I want to hit that magic moment of unbearable pain as the line comes into view. I always enjoy the banking analogy when I’m thinking about running. Think of your training runs as making small deposits into your race bank. When you’re racing, you’re taking small withdrawals throughout the race. By the time you cross the line, you want to be flat broke. Cash it all in, grab your medal and start thinking about the next one.
Think about your own race and where you need to be on the pain scale based on your tank at that distance. Go back and think about those special runs you had in your training and remember how you felt at certain points in the run. Focus your energy on rekindling those feelings and plot them on your mental race map. When you spend more time on the mental planning, not only will you be better on a perfect race day but also on an imperfect day. You can’t always control the time you run, but you can control the effort and the preparation that goes into it.