How to think like a champion

Gold medallist long-distance runner Kate Avery on what it takes to build a winning mindset


by Runner's World x New Balance

If you’re holding back from entering that 10K because of nagging doubts rather than nagging injuries, don’t fret. You’re not alone. Research shows 93% of endurance athletes have experienced some type of anxiety-related symptoms – such as acid reflux, nausea, or even vomiting – before or during their races.

We’ve asked cross-country gold medallist and New Balance athlete, Kate Avery (@KateAvery12), for her best techniques to turn you from worrier to warrior.

Chill out 

“Everybody has their own way of dealing with pressure,” says Kate. “Some people like to put music on, some people like to be by themselves. For me, it’s about being relaxed as possible.”

How you achieve this relaxed state is up to you; a study from JAMA Internal Medicine has found that a quick evening meditation the night before an event can quell sleep disturbances and calm pre-race night jitters. But whatever technique works for you is the right one. Kate, for example, relaxes with a cup of tea on race-day morning. Gold medal-winning prep isn’t always taxing…

Laser focus

“Although beforehand I try to relax, when I get out on the starting line, it’s take no prisoners.” Kate’s switch from relaxed to razor-sharp may be the result of years of practice, but there’s no reason you can’t harness her Terminator-style race-ready mindset. 

A task-specific pre-performance routine – for example, a warm-up mimicking the movements you’ll need for your run – “stimulates the neuromuscular pathways to the skill,” getting your muscle memory firing and your mind razor-sharp. 

Try this short routine to mimic the movements you’ll be doing during your run;

• Tense your entire upper-body, bringing your shoulders up to your chin.
• Now relax, dropping your shoulders, thrusting your chest out, tucking your elbows into your ribcage and extending your chin up, elongating your neck. 

This is the form you’ll be running with; mimicking this prior to the race will help you get your head in the game.

Train for yourself

“Sometimes you think “I can’t give any more, I can’t give any more,” says Kate. “And then somebody comes up on your shoulder… There’s no doubt competition pushes you to get the most out of yourself.” Although Kate thrives on competition, at tough points during the race, she often prefers to focus on herself. 

A study at the 1996 London Marathon found runners were broadly categorised into four types: internal associator (focusing on your body while running), external associator (focusing on competitors or markers), external disassociator (scenery or landmarks) or internal disassociator (distracting your mind with other problems). Pay attention during training to find out which thought pattern suits your running best; an internal associator will listen to their body and react accordingly, while a disassociator will push through the pain.

Enjoy the ride

No matter what race you’re running, if you go in expecting a good time you’ll be off to a flying start. It’s one of the reasons Kate’s been so successful; she loves what she does. “Racing for me is the best part. It’s the part I enjoy the most, and it’s where I can bring the best out of myself,” she tells us. 

“Your competitors are pushing you to get the best out of yourself. But I see running as an individual sport, and you are doing it, at the end of the day, for you.” The more optimistic you are going into the race, the more likely you are to clock a great time. Keep smiling. You trained for this. Now go earn that PB… 


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