Keep Your Head In The Game (Or Take It Way Out!)

Editor’s note: Amy Guth is training for the Chicago Marathon with the Run Red Team this fall. She’s also giving tips for her fellow runners’ training. Learn more about Run Red here.

It’s true that a good portion of any race is mental. On race day, we’ve already trained our bodies to go the distance, and all that remains is getting our brains to will us to the finish line. And, it’s true that our minds are capable of very weird things in a race, as well as very awesome things. Here are a few tips to keep your monkeys in check when and if the mind starts to fall in a hole during the race:

1. Fake it. Pretend you’re in the Olympics, or some other huge event, and you are so about to win and the whole world is screaming– in the stadium, at the television sets, all over the place– for you to win. And you can, as long as you hold off the guy/gal inches behind you. Push that edge then hold it until you feel yourself getting into a better place.

2. Pick them off. Pick an object like a tree or a stop sign, or a loudly-colored shirt of a fellow runner (if you absolutely must be stone cold like that), and pick ‘em off. Just focus on running to the target, or focus on passing your target person. Then pick another target and so on. Just don’t over-pace and run out of steam too early. That’s a common mistake, but a big mistake to make.

3. Go someplace else. Go ahead and trip out a little bit. Your body will likely keep doing what it’s doing, so mull over an issue, plan a dinner party, imagine cooking a huge meal upon which you’ll feast at the finish line, whatever. Just don’t zone out so much that you forget where you are, slow down and run off the road or crash-land into anyone. I once let my mind drift and suddenly, it was four hilly miles later. Not bad.

4. Have an emergency playlist in the reserves. I have a few songs on this short list. Songs that I’ve run with before that I equate with really outstanding running successes. Just the song is mental cue enough to make me feel better. I do this one a lot. It’s my lucky charm for sure. But, do check that your race allows on-course music; many have banned iPods and other personal players for safety reasons.

5. Make a mantra. I hear these all the time towards the end of a race. Some make sense, some absolutely do not. A friend of mine always chants “you’re going home, let’s go home, you’re going home, let’s go home….” to herself towards the end of a race, which is cool, and I’ve heard everything from “do it for Billy” to “tater tots” being mumbled over and over in the final miles. Hey, whatever works. I’m not here to judge! I once ran past a Jamba Juice during a marathon and got “jumba jumba jumba juice” stuck in my head. Ahem. Like I said, whatever works. Truly.

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