Mental ‘Pacing’ for Road Running
By Coach Stephane Moulin
A road event such as those at the Western Sydney Marathon (marathon, half, 10k) provides a high level of attraction as with a reasonable amount of training, results can be achieved by most. Unlike ultra distances, it doesn’t require a huge training workload and experience to be able to be successful. But like an ultra the mind does play a big part into your success.
Being road based events, those tend to be fast paced event, which require a high degree of focus and concentration to ‘stay on pace and keep check on technique” to achieve that specific goal time.
Obviously, the training program prior to such event would incorporate a mix of long easy, speed work, hills (if strength is needed) as well as some steady state runs to improve the athlete’s ability to “run faster easier”.
One aspect that is often neglected is the mental aspect for such event as it is most likely that things will go “wrong” on the day – or rather some unpredicted events will occur. It might a be a windy day, a hot day, a wet day, or go out too fast, you run someone else’s race, you get a hotspot/blister to name a few. What you do during those moments may well dictate the rest of your race.
Athletes can only manage themselves as it is futile trying to worry or control elements outside of your control. Keep positive, and stay calm. Stressing will lead to panic and irrational decisions, potential despair and giving up.
Training should include some pace simulation and practise mental ‘cues’ to stay on target. Training fatigued or finishing a long run under “duress” will simulate an end of race situation or an “unexpected” event on race day. The dreaded bonking is a positive training experience as it will make your mentally stronger and will demystify that unknown and will make you stronger for knowing that you can “survive it”.
Mental cues are simply small phrases or mantras, or lines of what sports psychologists would call ‘positive self-talk’, that internal dialogue that loops on repeat in your head. Some self-talk can be neutral, eg focusing in on form (‘head up’, ‘shoulders back’, ‘fast feet’ etc) while other self-talk can be positive (‘I’m getting this done’, ‘one step closer’, ‘good km’ etc) but try to keep the self-talk from getting negative as this will lead to an unpleasant emotional state and with that comes a higher likelihood of a performance drop.
Setting up realistic goals are key to your success and will ensure you avoid some disappointment and stress during the event (if unrealistic time you will be stressing as you are “behind” etc). I always suggest having 3 plans – great, good and bad, and typically you will float in between the top 2 during an event.
Backing yourself up and have belief in your abilities and training are key. Stick to your plan and let the training speak for itself.
At the end of the day, it is supposed to be fun!
Happy running, and see you all on race day!
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