I’ve done a lot of races in the 8 years that I’ve been running.  I’ve completed a 50K, 5 full marathons, 55 half marathons, and way too many shorter distances to count.  I don’t throw out those numbers to brag but to show that I am very experienced at the things that go through an athlete’s head during training and races.  I won’t admit to always having pleasant, happy thoughts during the race but I have learned how to handle those thoughts and get past them by changing them to something positive.  While training has prepared your body physically for the race, it’s important to focus on the mental aspect as well.  And let’s be honest here, aren’t all athletes a little mental? 🙂

These are three of my favorite, most-often used mental strategies.  Like I said earlier, it’s up to you if you want to keep these thoughts in your head or say them aloud – just be prepared for some odd looks if you speak them (not that I’ve done that or anything) 🙂

1.  Have a mantra.  Having a short phrase or a few motivating words already prepared is helpful for those times when you may be struggling.  It’s important to have it prior to this point because this is not the best time to come up with a good one.  When you feel that doubt start creeping in, start repeating your mantra until you get past it.  You’ll have to come up with your own mantra since different words affect people in different ways.  One of my favorites is simply “believe”.  My longer mantra is “I am strong. I am confident. I AM a marathoner.”  A few times of saying that gets me back to the mental place where I need to be.  Other mantras that I’ve heard and liked are “one mile at a time”, “define yourself”, and “you’re doing this”.  Be sure to keep it positive, energetic and action oriented.

2.  Choose positive words.  This one is tough when you’re in the midst of the pain but practicing it during training helps you be prepared for race day.  My rule is to make every word positive.  While I’m no psychologist, I read that the brain hears words individually and interprets them that way.  For example, if you tell yourself “don’t stop”, those are both negative words.  Even though they are put together to be positive, somehow the brain hears “don’t” and “stop” instead.  But if you replace the individual negative words with positive words, your brain will have no opportunity to misinterpret what you mean.  Replace phrases like “don’t stop” with “keep going”.  Both say the same thing but one eliminates any negativity.  I can’t explain exactly why it works, but it does.

3.  Add a “but”.  No matter how hard you try, sometimes a less-than positive thought creeps in.  We just can’t help it sometimes – it’s the reality of our current situation and the challenge we are giving our body and minds.  All races are tough (some tougher than others) and we’re all human so not everything goes as planned every time.  Every now and then a thought pops in your head about how tired you are or how hard this is.  Those are definitely legitimate feelings but you don’t want to let them derail your progress and your positive thoughts.  What works really well for me is to acknowledge those feelings and add a “but” to the end.  For example, “I’m so tired” becomes “I’m so tired but I’m doing this!”.  Or “I want to quit” becomes “I want to quit but I am strong and will keep going”.   Such a simple word as “but” can really change the direction of your thoughts.

Do you have any positive thought strategies that you use regularly?  I’d love to hear your favorite mantra!

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