“Runners are the greatest people in the world,” I overheard the legendary coach Pat Tyson say this summer. “They’re tough as nails, energetic, and determined!”
As a member of the tribe, a running coach, and someone who has the last 25 years around runners, I had to agree, and frankly it didn’t hurt to be reminded of the positives. When the gun goes off, however, not all runners flow with pure confidence and steely resolve.
In a sport that holds a mirror in front of you at every turn of the track or finish line, the psychological challenge can be daunting. One poor race or workout can tip the scales in the wrong direction, turning a simple sport into a massively complex one. Here are four tricks to keep your cool the next time you toe the line.
Runners on race day often display the same characteristic of a frightened cow in a bovine processing plant. If you’re feeling anxious, acknowledge it, but do not let it control you. Write down a list of positive expectations, note your preparedness, and flood your mind with those positive vibes.
Great runners plan out their races ahead of time and visualize their ideal end result. They compete with a strategy and anticipate the moment they are going to take control of their own destiny rather than reacting to something else. Competitors, hills, extreme weather can all be a factor, but turn someone else’s negative into your positive.
“Relax!” is the cue most commonly heard during a race. But obviously your arousal level needs to be fairly high during an intense race. Legendary “Speed City” coach Bud Winter would remind his sprinters and runners to run at nine-tenths speed to avoid the tight fisted, strained neck, and clenched-teeth look of a loser—a good reminder that tense muscles should be kept loose to improve overall efficiency. During his tenure, coach Winter’s athletes set 37 world records on the track.
Checking for areas of tension while you race, and mitigating their harmful effects can have a big effect on overall performance. After Roger Bannister broke 4 minutes in the mile, he was quoted as saying, “There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim.” Concentrating on staying calm and controlled can keep you locked in with a high level of focus.
Best of luck this fall to all competitors, whether you’re spiking up for XC or running the streets of Berlin, Portland, or Chicago. Enjoy the adventure!