10 Ways to Stay Mentally Strong During a Race

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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10 Ways to Stay Mentally Strong During a Race

Long-distance racing drains not only the body, but also the mind. Runners can develop a negative mindset as the miles pass and the lactic acid builds up, making the race harder to finish.

“Mental toughness, or tracking cognitive thoughts during a marathon, has a large impact on the outcome of a run,” says Kate Cummins, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist.

So, to channel your inner optimist and wash away destructive thoughts during endurance challenges, these experts provide 10 tips to help keep your mind from turning sour in a race:

1

DISASSOCIATE YOUR THOUGHTS FROM PAIN

“Some people think of squishing a boss’ face with each step,” says Meghan Kennihan, NASM certified personal trainer and a USATF run coach. If you want to concentrate on something more positive, she suggests imagining yourself as a “gazelle prancing gracefully through the finish line.”

2

USE MIND GAMES

Remember playing games on long car drives with the family as a kid? You can do the same thing during a race, such as occupying yourself with alphabet list games. “I would name cities to travel to starting with A, then B, then C and so on all the way to Z,” says runner Lisa Alemi. “This would keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t realize how long I was having to run.” For long races, she continues with other lists, such as foods she’s tried, people she met after graduate school and store names.  

3

DECORATE YOUR GEAR

“Sometimes even writing phrases on athletic tape, silicone bracelets, etc. can help,” says Chelsi Day, PsyD, a clinical and sport psychologist for athletes at Indiana University.

4

DECORATE YOUR NUTRITION

Tracy Green says she writes mantras on stickers that she affixes to gels. “Each mantra corresponds to a certain part of the course, ‘Calm and Comfortable’ for the first section, and ‘Fast and Fierce’ for the final section.” She focuses on each mantra and repeats it to herself as often as she needs until she opens the next gel.  

5

VISUALIZE THE FINISH LINE

Heidi McBain, MA, a licensed professional counselor says to simply visualize yourself crossing the finish line at any point during the race when you’re feeling discouraged.

6

CHUNK THE RACE

“I break up the remaining race into minuscule parts and tell myself, ‘I only have to get to the next one,’” says James Goodwillie, founder of onetomulti.com. Doing this helps Goodwillie remind himself that he could hang on longer in training, so he can make it in the race.

7

INTERACT WITH OTHERS

“Most people are struggling to get through the race just like you are,” says David Bennett, certified counselor, relationship expert and co-author of seven self-help books. He suggests intermingling with others could be a simple as running past crowds and giving high fives to spectators or providing positive affirmations to other runners.  

8

SELECT MUSIC CAREFULLY

“Consider creating multiple playlists based on how you will feel throughout the race,” says Ashley B. Hampton, PhD, a business coach for women entrepreneurs. She says that calm, classical music at the beginning of a long-distance race could help create a smooth start, and upbeat music near the end might help you forget the burn in your muscles.  


READ MORE > HOW YOUR MUSIC INFLUENCES YOUR WORKOUT


9

PLAN YOUR FINISH LINE INSTAGRAM POST

“Crafting my own posts in my head while I’m exercising or racing is great motivation for finishing what I started,” says Carolee Belkin Walker, a wellness blogger and podcaster.

10

PICTURE THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE

During races, Cody Higgs, a licensed professional counselor and endurance runner thinks of his son, wife and friends, giving him an overall feeling of positivity. “There was an obstacle race when I had to remember a group of random numbers for about 2.5 hours, and I was able to relate all the numbers to people close to me, causing me to think about those people the whole race. It was a huge help,” he says.

About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.

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