5 ways to prepare mentally for a big race

Photo: Ian Harrison

created by runner's world for simplyhealth

We asked sports psychologist Dr Josephine Perry for her top tips on how to prepare most effectively for a race, however big or small. 

"As runners, we love to run. But when it comes to racing, there's much more than just physical skill at play. Your body might be honed and ready to go, but if your mind isn’t in the right place, it can have a nasty habit of trying to sabotage your efforts."

"Getting mentally ready though, is a delicate balancing act. Too calm, and you might lack the mental momentum to push yourself. Too anxious, and you could end up seeing your race as scary or threatening. The exact formula is a mix of robust confidence, a feeling of control and a dash of nerves," she says. 

 

1. Face your fears

"Before any race, we instinctively evaluate the demands it will make on us and any stressors that it will involve," says Dr Perry. "We then mentally appraise whether we have the ability, experience, skills or support needed to deal with them."

"If we feel we can cope, then we see it as a challenge. If we feel we don’t have the resources to cope, then we go into a threat state, feeling as if we are in some type of danger," explains Dr Perry.

Action: "Try to write down what is playing on your mind. Once you’ve identified which fears you can influence, create a plan to prevent each element happening. Then decide on a strategy to use if it did happen.

"Some parts of your race may still go wrong, but knowing you've got a plan in place to manage your biggest fears will take some weight off your shoulders and make you feel like you're less under threat," she says.

"If, for example, you start to lose momentum from your goal pace, you may have a relevant mantra to repeat to yourself. This could remind you of your motivation to race and help you get back on track," adds Dr Perry. 

2. Reflect on success 

"Confidence comes from two sources - knowing we’ve got the skills we need, and knowing we've already achieved some of what we are aiming for. Often, we've got both the skills and the experience but our negativity bias makes these memories harder to reach, reducing confidence," shares Dr Perry.

Action: "To override this, try and pull from your memory (or training diary) all the great sessions you've done and the new skills you've learnt. This should help you feel confident that you’ve prepared well and can meet the demands of the race."

3. Get your body primed

"We feel more in control when we feel that we've done everything we can to ensure our bodies are race-ready," tips Dr Perry. "This doesn't just mean completing your training plan."

Action: "Make sure you’ve been doing any physio exercises you’ve been set. Look after your body by doing things like stretching, core work and sports massage," she advises.

"Runners are known to get really paranoid about aches and niggles in the build up to races so having experts like physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths or podiatrists who you can see straight away can really help reduce the anxiety or panic," adds Dr Perry. You can help cover the cost of these treatments, without needing a GP referral, on the Simplyhealth Active Plans

 

4. Build mental muscle 

"Reflecting on our strengths can help us when we race too. Writing down your physical, mental and logistical strengths will remind you that you're well equipped to get through your race, and even stand out.

Action: "Keeping a piece of paper listing your strengths in your wallet or kit bag can be helpful when those nerves come knocking."

5. Get kitted out

"Finally, while it seems a little shallow, feeling that you look like an athlete can give you that final confidence-boost on race day," says Dr Perry.

Action: "Having good quality kit that fits you well and equipment you trust gives you less to worry about, reducing anxiety," she adds.

Stepping out in the right footwear not only helps you run with confidence but with less risk of injury too. A Simplyhealth Active Plan can help you pay towards the cost of gait analysis with a podiatrist, who will help identify your foot strike and footwear needs.

"So face your fears, think about your strengths, build mental resilience, prep your body and dress to win, and you'll feel like the runner you've trained to be," says Dr Perry.

 

Whether you’re training for your first event or aiming for a race personal best, Simplyhealth supports runners every step of the way. Follow the journey #MyEveryStep

Get two months free on the Simplyhealth Active Plan until 30th November 2018 visit simplyhealth.co.uk/active or call 0330 102 5356 now