by Matt Dravitski

We spend a lot of time and effort training the body, but is there time to be gained in training the mind? The success of sports people like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods who do a lot of mental preparation tells us that there is. Do the Bernies and Paula Radcliffes of the running world get a bit more out of themselves than most of us? I think so.

Running is a relatively simple sport. We must look for straight forward; workable steps that will help us achieve better results. In terms of mental preparation here is something that has worked for me and could for you, too.

Look back at your last few races. What are the three to four things that you believe that you could improve upon? Let’s say you decided you:

  1. Started a bit too fast;
  2. Lost focus in the third quarter of the race;
  3. Tensed up in the upper body and arms.

Ask yourself “how am I going to fix those problems in my next key race?”

  1. Hold back a bit at the start. Treat it like a tempo for the first 5-6 minutes. Think about good form and ignore those around you. Then start to race.
  2. Give yourself something to motivate you in the third quarter when things get tough. Having spent hours and hours training – are you going  to waste that by being soft for a few minutes? – If and only if you push yourself hard right to the finish you’ll buy yourself that new thing you’ve been thinking about.
  3. You are going to consciously relax your arms and lower your shoulders.

Choose a simple acronym to remind yourself of these focuses. For example, you could use HAG. At every k marker you see (or pick 2-3 points per lap if it’s a crossy course) you will think HAG. Hold back a bit at the start (obviously you’ll need to focus on this one mainly on the start line and first 1k or so). Arms – relax your arms / relax your upper body. Guts – you are going to get tired in the second half of the race. But you’ll remember how much preparation you’ve put in. Stay focused and keep pushing. Don’t give in.

In the weeks leading up to your key race, practise your “focus points” in hard training sessions and lead-up races. Remember that what you do on race day just reflects the physical and mental preparation that you have put in beforehand.