Plan Early: Race Day Mental Strategies

Racing well is as much a product of mental strength as physical readiness, whether you're out to nail a PB or just finish. Too often, though, runners practise mental tricks such as visualisation just a few days before race day - if at all.

"That's a mistake," says running coach Dean Hebert ( Conditioning the mind, he says, is just like building endurance and speed: it requires practice and consistency.

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Practise no excuses

A key aspect of mental toughness is teaching the mind to do what it doesn't want to do - such as pushing through discomfort in a race.

"I tell my athletes to give me their best even on their bad days," says Hebert. "This trains the mind to handle adversity and teaches you to hang in there."

Plus, you can use the workout as a mid-race reminder that if you can do it in training, you can do it on race day.

Log your state of mind

"What we measure is what we improve upon," says Dr JoAnn Dahlkoetter, author of Your Performing Edge (£14.50, Stackpole Books). Along with your workouts, write in your training log how motivated, focused, energised or confident you felt on a scale of one to 10.

"Maybe you scribble a three next to 'focused' a few days in row," she says. "So you ask yourself, 'What am I thinking about instead?'"

The answer can encourage you to address the problem. Be sure to also write down the mental tools that worked so that you can use them in the future.

Get creative

Make your mental tools work harder by using them in unexpected ways. Schedule a reminder to yourself so that your power words pop up on your mobile phone or computer 10 minutes before your run, for example.

Or record yourself describing a workout when you felt strong, then listen to or watch the file just before you start your warm-up. "You'll bring the positive emotions to your workout," says Dahlkoetter.

Eliminate negativity

I can't. It's too hard. I'm too slow. "Negative chatter wastes energy and can manifest as physical tension," says Hebert.

Practise different methods of countering worry to find what works best for you. Effective tools include repeating power words (try 'calm' and 'strong'), visualisation (seeing yourself getting through the tough patch), and centring (focusing on your breathing or footfalls).