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Running through challenges on race day

Running through challenges on race day

BY FLORIS GIERMAN SEPTEMBER 30, 2022
Usually when you start a race, you should feel good and excited to race. At some point in your race, you may start hitting tough spots.
For example, your muscles could start to get tired with lactate buildup, energy levels may decrease and your body might ache, blisters start to form, etc.  
PATH projects running
Often when this happens, a voice in your head starts a negative dialog confirming these feelings:
  • I’m feeling horrible
  • It’s still so far
  • I can’t do this
  • Why am I even doing this
First off, realize you’re not alone, many endurance athletes experience challenges and negative thoughts at some point in their race. Let’s take a step back on what you can do when you hit a tough spot in a race.


1. REALIZE YOUR RACE IS GOING TO BE HARD

Before you start any race, 1/2 marathon, marathon, ultra marathon, triathlon, etc realize it is going to be hard. Set those expectations in advance that it is going to be challenging and most probably you’re going to get very uncomfortable for short periods of time.


2. YOUR RACE MIGHT NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN

  • Most probably your race will not go exactly according to plan. Stay calm, this is a temporary set back, you can handle it, take a deep breath. You are going to have to improvise and fix the problem at hand.
  • If you’re low on energy, take some sugars, possibly a gel or drink with caffeine.
  • If there is a lot of headwind, find a few other runners at same pace, take turns to run in the front. This can safe a lot of energy.
  • If you feel like you’re going to cramp, slow down your pace a bit, drink extra water at the next aid station, if you have any salt / electrolyte pills, bite into one.
  • Look what is within your control to change your situation around.


3. DON’T LOOK BACK, LOOK FORWARD

Don’t dwell on the things that happened, like the wrong turn you took, the few minutes you lost at the bathroom break. Look forward, don’t waste energy on things you can’t change or control.
Zion running routes


4. PUSH THROUGH DISCOMFORT

Know that things will get better, this is a temporary tough spot. Our body + mind are designed well to protect us. If you push yourself in a race, these protection mechanisms kick in for all athletes at different discomfort levels. Often I think at 30 to 40% of total pain / discomfort level, your body and brain starts giving signals. There are ways to push through discomfort. I don’t believe in a NO PAIN NO GAIN training mentality, but to perform your best races, there is often a point where you have to find a way to accept discomfort, knowing this is temporary. Obviously don’t go too crazy here, make sure to take signals from your body serious.

5. MANTRA / POSITIVE SELF TALK

Find a mantra or positive self talk to get you through tough spots, repeat this many times to yourself. Something like:

  • "You’re doing good, come on, you got this"

  • "You’ve trained well, now it’s go time"

  • "You’re making good progress, let’s go!"


6. BREAK RACE IN SMALL SECTIONS

Break your race in small sections, not 10 miles to go, but 10 x 1 mile to go. Set small goals, run strong until the next light pole or until the next aid station.

7. PICK UP YOUR PACE

  • One of my friends Kelley Puckett mentioned a good one on our recent Sub 3 Hour Marathon podcast: “When you’re struggling, pick up your pace your legs want a change of pace.” Of course, that’s easier said than done, but I like this one.

 

8. REALIZE YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Most others are you are going through the same tough spots too, so being aware of your surroundings and encouraging other runners can help too. Laugh, try to smile, slap a high five to a spectator, thank the volunteers at the aid stations. This alone will positively boost your energy levels.

 

 During the tough spots in a race, there will be 2 voices in your head:

  • One that says: "you can not do it!"
  • And one that says: "you can do this!"

The vote that will win, is the one you decide to listen to most. The choice is yours.

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