Fitness and Performance

How to mentally prepare for race day 

Sep 30 2021

When you commit to a running race – whether it’s the London Marathon or your first 5k – you also commit to conditioning your body so that it’s healthy, prepared and in peak condition for race day. But what many runners forget, is that knowing how to mentally prepare for race day is just as important. Leaving mental prep out of your training plan can leave you underprepared for when the going gets tough. 

Bodyset RunFit specialist, Rebecca Nygren has trained for 3 marathons, and most recently, her first ultramarathon. Here’s her top tips on how to get your head into gear for race day…  

Visualise your success 

Many runners have a habit of forgetting all the successful runs leading up to race day and focus on one bad workout instead. Sound like you? Confidence plays a key role in stopping race day nerves in in their tracks. Throughout your training plan try putting aside some time to play positive music and generate a picture of a successful race day in your head. Then replay this scenario over and over. You can do this while running or even on rest days too.  

Come race day, you can play those songs again to get yourself into a positive race-ready mode. It’s a great way to build up confidence and excitement without too many nerves. Nerves can be useful for performance, but not so many that they throw you off guard! 

Create an image of the route 

Where possible it’s useful to know the type of ground you’ll be running on and the scenery you’re going to be surrounded by. Familiarise yourself with the track, make a mental note of where the big hills are and where key milestones are. By dividing the race into smaller sections, you’ll be able to mentally prepare for race day as well as manage your pace better and mentally overcome hurdles during the race (particularly if it’s a longer run). 

Stick to routine 

Prepare for race day carefully. When to wake up, what to eat on the day and the day before, when to arrive, when and how to warm up and what to do during the run (pit stops, pacing, snacks).  

Before race day, trial your race day prep with a practice run. Eat the same dinner the night before, the same breakfast, wear your race day outfit, listen to the same playlist, start your run at the same time as the race will start. Try to leave yourself no surprises so that you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible during the whole event. 

Prepare yourself for the unknown  

While it’s important to turn up to events prepared with your race day ritual in mind, there are some things you might not be able to control. The weather – what if it is hotter than expected, or raining? What if your body feels tired on the day? What if you find the crowds off putting? 

In the same way that it’s useful to visualise a smooth and successful race. It’s beneficial to mentally prepare for something going wrong too. During your training spare some time for visualising variable conditions.  

Imagine yourself at the starting line, surrounded by thousands of other nervous runners. Are the crowds big? How do you feel when the gun sounds? Can you stay at your own pace or are you tempted to pace with other nearby runners?  

Accept negative thoughts and wave goodbye to them 

Negative thoughts are just thoughts. They are not reality. Let the thoughts flow into your mind, recognise them, take a long deep breath and let them go as you switch your mind over to a positive race day zone.  

It’s also useful focus on all the great training runs you’ve had, and the new skills you’ve learnt to prep you for race day. Feel confident that you’ve prepared well and can meet the demands of the race. You’ve taken all the necessary steps to prepare – the race is just another step. You can do this! 

Focus on your own goal 

This is your race. Focus on your own goal, not anyone else’s. Try to forget any expectations that friends, family or coaches may have of you. After all, running is for you.  

It’s easy to get swept up with what everyone else on the track is doing, but remember they have a different race day plan to you. Perhaps they have planned to get ahead on the first kilometre and slow down after that. If you avoid getting caught up with what everyone else is doing, you’ll likely have more success in accomplishing your own goal. 

Most importantly, enjoy the race! Rather than stressing out about your race time, or trying to impress others, focus on racing your best and use the love of running as your key driver. You’ve worked hard to get to this race day. Feel proud of how far you’ve come and enjoy it!  

If you’re getting set for race day or would like help in achieving a new running goal, then book in for a Bodyset RunFit assessment – an in-depth, gold-standard running assessment designed to help you make the most of your training and achieve your running goals faster and without injury.  

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