You've been training for weeks, or perhaps even months, and race day is just around the corner. If you've raced before, you know that adequate training is only one small piece of the race-day puzzle.
Finishing strong will require a combination of both physical and mental focus. Masters runner and coach Art Ives offers some tips for maintaining that focus, and managing your energy on race day.
Tricks of the Trade
According to Ives, there are both physical and mental tricks that runners can use to stay focused during a race.
When it comes to physical focus, Ives tells runners: "Remember not to overreach, and to take steps that are manageable throughout the entire race. It's important to try not to overstretch the muscles."
Runners can also use hills and pacing to their advantage.
"When you're attacking downhill portions, maintain a lower center of gravity," Ives says. "Tempo changes are also really effective. Surge when you feel good, and settle in when you don't."
According to Ives, runners shouldn't get discouraged if they start to get tired because running energy is a renewable resource.
"[Energy] can come back," he says. "If you remember to shorten your stride a little bit, slow your quads down a little bit, and run in a style that takes a little bit less out of you, you can recover your energy."
More: How to Boost Your Energy
Eyes on the Prize
While remembering how to manage your physical state on race day is important, Ives argues that maintaining mental focus is just as essential.
"The big key is to get [the runner] to run within himself and stay self-contained," he says.
Ives warns runners not to allow themselves to turn the focus on other runners.
"If you're tired, don't assume the other runners aren't as tired or more tired than you because most likely, they are," he jokes.
Staying Above the Pain
Maintaining mental focus throughout the entire race can be tough. To help runners stay engaged, Ives teaches his runners a unique but effective visualization that helps them disassociate from the grind of the race.
In the visualization runners are encouraged to keep their physiological awareness "above" their bodies, as if they are "riding" a horse—in this case, the "horse" is actually your body.
"It's a great meditation to do while you're running," he says, "because if you can stay in contact with the power in your body, your body can really take a lot of punishment. Just be smart about how you're doing that and maintain proper form."
Mind Over Matter
Ives reiterates the importance of understanding the power that the mind can have over the body.
"A lot of what the mind is meant to do is to register sensations and stay objective," he says. "The key is to work with a positively-focused mind so that you can stop yourself from reacting to any one thing that doesn't feel good."
When a runner finds himself struggling with a physical discomfort that threatens to derail his mental focus during the race, Ives suggests that a runner only make fine adjustments to his pace or form, and remember the old mantra, "This, too, will pass."
As race day gets closer, runners should have realistic expectations about performance. According to Ives, a large part of running on race day is learning to stay relaxed while managing energy and pain. Practice tricks to help you maintain focus during your weakest moments—this can be the key to your next personal record.event to add to your calendar.