Monday, November 18, 2013

7 Ways To Be Mentally Strong For Your Big Race

When I was training for the Ironman (no, I’m not quite ready to stop talking about this yet), I was told the same thing over and over again. The race is not as much physical as it is mental. What the hell? Then why am I putting in all these miles on the bike? I might as well go meditate and eat donuts.

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I had heard this thing about being mentally strong time and time again throughout marathon training in the past. I tried to figure out what “being mentally strong” even meant.  In the back of my mind, I had no clue how to prepare mentally. Tell me I have to train 16 hours a week and what my workouts are and I’ll kick ass. But, ask me to prepare mentally and…well, there is no training plan for that.

Soon enough I realized what this all meant. Do your training, get your fitness where it needs to be, but be sure to train your mind as much as your body. It is absolutely true that your physical body will want to give out before your mind.

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Being mentally strong is different for everyone, so I can only tell you what worked for me.  One thing to note is that sometimes the best course of action in a race or in training is to stop due to injury. It is not my belief that one should push through injury at the expense of one’s health. Sometimes it takes a huge amount of mental strength to know when to say when and to let your body rest due to injury.

Prior to the Ironman, I wasn’t sure if I had done enough mental preparation. But, as the day unfolded, my confidence in finishing never waned. No matter what happened, my optimism did not retreat. Not when 2,500 people almost drowned me in the choppy ocean. Not when I was over six hours into the race and knew I was likely not even half way done. Not when I wanted to puke my guts out on the aid station volunteer at mile 14 of the marathon. So, what worked?

1. Know why: When you have a big goal for yourself, it’s important to understand why you really want to meet that goal. At some point, you will want to quit, and more than ever you will need to remember why you wanted to do this in the first place.  For me, it was simple - I wanted to meet the goal because it was a long time dream and because I said I would do it. My “why” was about determination and self discipline. Something I wanted to prove to myself.

2. Visualize: Prior to race day I started visualizing. I’d never really done this before – visualize what? Me not shitting my pants? The finish line? Ryan Gosling? I decided to visualize how I might feel when things got tough. Since I hadn’t been on the course at all, I couldn’t picture my environment. Instead, I put myself in the water and imagined feeling panicked and scared. I talked myself out of it. I put myself on the bike at mile 80 and imagined feeling tired and defeated. I talked myself out of it. I put myself at mile 17 of the run when I knew every cell of my being would want to stop. I talked myself out of it. On race day when things got tough, I felt better equipped to pull myself out of the funk.

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3. Stay in the present: This was something told to me countless times by Coach Sharpie and PT Bob. Do not think of the race as one big long crazy day. When you are swimming, you are out for a swim. Don’t think about the millions of hours and miles ahead of you.  During the Ironman, I did not wear a Garmin. I wore my trusty old Timex watch. I looked at it about 3 times during the race. I was not a slave to my time – I was going based on feel and exertion level.  This helped me stay in the moment and in touch with my body.

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4. Have a mantra. We’ve heard this one a million times, but for good reason. It works. A mantra does not have to be anything fancy, the simpler the better. A mantra is something you can pull out of your ass when the going gets tough (or before then if you like). I did not have a mantra for Ironman day (crazy, I know). On the morning of the race we drove by a church with a sign that spoke to me and voila! mantra for the day:

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(By the way, I just learned that there is a Church Sign Generator online! The Internet never fails to impress).

I also love the idea of picking a word from each column below and making it your mantra (i.e, Run Light, Embrace Power):

5. Do not assume it’s going to get worse: This is probably the best advice I received, and it does not just apply to racing. When things go bad or wrong, it’s human nature to think the worst, to get caught in the downward spiral of it all. Training (and racing) taught me that a lot of bad crap can happen, but it does not always go from bad to worse. In fact, things often improve if you give them time.

6. Wear something inspiring. A dear friend even gave me a necklace with a charm of the lotus flower on it to wear during the race. The flower symbolizes luck and rising above challenge. I also wore the Believe bracelet that my daughter and I had wore for the month leading up to the race. When I needed a pick me up, I fondled one or the other, or both. I like fondling.

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Look! It fits perfectly into my weird throat hole.

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7. Remain calm. No freaking out. Let’s say something goes wrong during your race (It will, I promise. and it won’t be what you expected). Your period starts that morning, you get a flat tire, you mess your pants, you crash on your bike, you get put in the penalty box, you throw up, etc. Any one of these things can cause you to panic, to think your time goals are impossible, to lose your confidence. Take a deep breath. Stay present. Know you can handle it. Do not try to make up for lost time because you will hit a wall. Problem solve and move forward.

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Do you have a mantra?

What is the toughest race you’ve done, and how did you keep your mind strong?

 

In a later post I’m going to talk about race day fueling, another aspect that can make or break the success of a race.

SUAR

52 comments:

  1. Thanks Beth! After a truly humbling Richmond marathon experience over this past weekend (where my hamstring/glute froze out on me, and I ended up "taking a jog" and watching my goal race crash and burn) I needed this to remind me of everything else in racing/training! Congrats on your Ironman finish :)

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  2. My mantra is "Dreams become reality one choice at a time." It gets me through anything in training, and I feel strong when I reflect on that during the big day.

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  3. Did you also notice that it was St. Ironman's Church? That gave me the chills!

    So freaking cool!

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    1. Ashe, sorry to burst your bubble, but that is a internet created sign, made from the link she posted with the church sign image... sorry.

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  4. Love this! My mantra is always "how bad do you want this" and "you will not quit" - very simple but they work.

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  5. "My legs are wheels." This helps my pace and posture during a race. Fluid, consistent, and smooth. :)

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  6. My mantra is "you can do hard things".

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  7. Back in September I completed my first 100 mile ultra. I didn't have a mantra, but I kept my mind strong by knowing without a doubt I would finish. I never had a single doubt throughout my training all year, or throughout the race. This I believe helped me finish strong.

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  8. You worked hard for that Ironman - you deserve to talk about it forever if you so please!! :-)

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  9. "Your race, Your pace, Your time" or "You can go hard, or you can go home" either and/or both always see me through!

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  10. Great advice Beth! My mantra of late has been "Right here, right now" - it reminds me to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself.

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  11. My latest mantra was "you outran an Emu girl, you got this" Seriously. And it worked.

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  12. I completely agree with your be in the present philosophy.

    I just ran my first marathon on Saturday and taking it one mile at a time is what made it almost (dare I say) easy. While others around me were fretting about the upcoming hills and the next xx number of miles, I was just living in the moment and not thinking about what was ahead. If I had done that, I know I would not have felt as great as I did for the whole race if I had spent minute worrying about what was ahead.

    My mantra was/is "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." It was on a temporary tattoo which I put on the inside of my right wrist.

    And seriously, please keep talking about your Ironman... then I won't feel so guilty about continuing to go on and on about the marathon! ;)

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    1. Errrr... bad last sentence there. Please allow me to restate: "I know I would not have felt as great as I did for the whole race if I had spent every minute worrying about what was ahead."

      Oi. I don't think my brain has recovered yet.

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  13. My mental game has progressed along with my racing experience. Some of my favorite mantras are: "set your pace, run your race" and "can't stop. won't stop." Both have come in extremely handy in my first Triathlon and when I ran the Boston Marathon in horrible conditions.
    Please tell us MORE not less about the IM!

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  14. You are one tough cookie!

    Not my mantra. Just thinking of you. I don't know that I would have it in me to do an IM.

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  15. Racing in a fall marathon in 2010 - winds were constant (I later found out) at 35-40 mph. Despite knowing this was likely to be the case before we started .... and not liking the idea of it.......I wanted a mantra to keep me going. I don't know what triggered it but I almost immediately started to repeat "my race my pace". The next 3:40 of my life are a blur but I definitely used that mantra to zone in on my task at hand. Focus on the goal using my mantra, being as positive as possible plus fuel intake made it a successful day! OR I was too stubborn to not finish.

    Rick Boudreau

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  16. Great post! Loving hearing all the background & details.

    Question - what books, magazines, etc. did you find most helpful in getting started on triathlon training? What tips would you have for an utter newbie to the swim? To the bike?

    I'm not planning to do a tri, but it fascinates me, and I've done stationary biking and pool running for XT and rehab, now have been told swimming would improve my VO2max a lot and be a nice balance as a Masters runner, so I'm sort of looking to improve in the other "disciplines" of tri while not becoming a triathlete - at least not until I hit all my marathon goals and get into ultrarunning....maybe then. :) I'm crazy enough that I feel the obsessive pull of IM - which I could easily see turning into a Kona quest - and am devouring triathlon books, mostly about individuals - so any suggestions there helpful too, tho I think I may have read them all!

    I wouldn't be against being able to eat more calories though, and I'm already trying to do multiple workouts a day to keep 1.5h or better of cardio per day during my comeback from injury. Had a great 12k race yesterday, targeting mid-March marathon!

    thanks much Beth, so cool that you're sharing - and I agree, tell us more not less!

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  17. My toughest race was not Ironman Canada. It was a local half iron, a race I'd done twice before. It's on a road I ride nearly every bike ride. Several buddies were doing it with me. The swim was ok, but I crashed my bike going out of transition, and nearly crashed again within a K of the start. I rode into a big warning sign for motorists. It was cold and I under-dressed for it. All my nutrition tasted horrible so I ate about a quarter of it. I had a slow horrible brutal ride. The run was no better. The sun had come out and I was cooking. I nearly quit 100 times, but in the end I was pretty sure it would be easier to keep slogging along and finish, rather than have to explain to people that I quit because I was having a bad day.
    After a certain base level of fitness, mental toughness is the single best thing to bring to a race.

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    1. I wish there was a "like" button for this. You nailed it exactly.

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  18. Awesome post, Beth. Thanks. I'm bookmarking it for future reference - even though I'm promising myself I'll never run anything tougher than a half marathon again. Congrats again on the Ironman.

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  19. Awesome post, Beth. Thanks. I'm bookmarking it for future reference - even though I'm promising myself I'll never run anything tougher than a half marathon again. Congrats again on the Ironman.

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  20. I got mine from a sign I saw at my first half marathon, it simply said You Can And You Will!

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  21. Thank you for this post! I am eating up all your advice/tips on endurance. So inspiring! Feeling ready to tackle my first Ultra in a wk and a half!

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  22. Mine is "you're the shit!" - trust me you guys, it works!

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  23. I love reading your thought. I ran my first marathon on Sunday - my mantra? I am a yellow rubber duck.

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  24. I completed my first 70.3 this year and during my bike I mucked up my nutrition as I didnt want to get the trots and got off the bike and pretty much bonked after 3k into the run. I was stubborn however and refused to stop even though my run could've been mistaken for a fast walk - I just wanted to get to the finish line. The whole way in my head was Bob Marley's Three little birds lyrics - don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing is going to be alright :D it took 3.12 to finish the run I was so knackered that my legs shook when I stopped. I learned my lesson about my nutrition - still love that song :)

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    1. If you're going to choose a mantra, you can find many good ones in the music of Bob Marley. "Three Little Birds" is an excellent choice. Did you know that it was played at Fenway Park this season when Shane Victorino came to the plate for the World Champion Boston Red Sox?

      http://espn.go.com/blog/music/post/_/id/6249/bob-marley-shane-victorino-and-the-series

      http://www.boston.com/sports/touching_all_the_bases/2013/10/dont_worry_about_thing_behind_victorino_slam_red_sox_punch_t.html

      " ... Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds'' has become familiar at Fenway this season as Victorino's at-bat music, sparking impromptu sing-a-longs. And you guys who control such things from deep in the bleachers might want to make damn sure it becomes an enduring tradition since its chorus is a perfect 13-word encapsulation of this team. ..."

      "Don't worry about a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

      I was lucky enough to see Bob Marley and the Wailers perform live at the Music Hall in Boston in April 1974. I will never forget it.

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  25. Great post Beth! Many mantras have gotten me through tough races. "You are strong and unstoppable!"

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  26. I don't really have a mantra, but favorite quote is, "if you're going through hell, keep going" Winston Churchill. Also, talk about your Ironman forever if you want, love hearing about it!!

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  27. I love this. Great post! My triathlon season is just starting here in Australia, and I've been working on getting ready mentally recently. These are great tips!

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  28. I love that comment "do not assume its going to get worse" I remembered it Sunday when I reached my mental/physical lowpoint in my trailrace. I had been fighting a stitch for at least a mile and for some reason my right hip hurt. I shortened my stride and increased my cadence which changed my breathing. No more stitch and my last two miles were faster than all but my first. Sunday's 8 mile trailrace was my toughest yet. I am a running behinner, in the year since I started I have run 2 road 5ks and a trail 6k and while I regularly run 4-5 miles this was the race that I wanted to run all year. My mantra has been "keep moving forward" crossing the finish was soo much easier than I expected. The winter trail running series starts next month and finishes in April with a half marathon...

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    1. Exactly...sometimes just changing up one small thing like cadence or taking a sip of Coke, or taking a deep breath can switch things up enough to make it a bit better. Congrats on toughing it out through a tough race!

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  29. Thanks so much for this post. I am a victim of of my mind...my running friends keep telling me that it's all in my head, and I know they're right.

    I've had some interesting races, but the most challenging had to be the Broad Street Run 10 miler in Philadelphia in 2012. I just wasn't feeling my best and wanted to get it over with. First my shoes were too loose, then I tightened them and they were extremely tight and uncomfortable. I kept trying to stay focused. Then I really, REALLY had to pee...my goodness it took everything within me to hold it in! The funny thing was that I beat my previous time despite all of it!

    I have never tried a mantra, though I did come up with the name for my blog, Run With No Regrets, while in the middle of a difficult run!

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  30. Most people told me it would be an insane idea to run a marathon after seven years with very little running.
    But for me it was like "now or never".
    I had Jeff Galloways book: Marathon- you can do it.
    And that became my mantra: You can do it! You can do it!
    And I did it.

    Greetings from Austria
    Gabrielle

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  31. As always, great post Beth, I'm a victim of the Voice (she's a mean bitch). I only recently started running in May and my toughest mental race so far was a 10k. 2k in to it and all I could think was "this is fucked, why am I doing this?" I'm sure it didn't help that the first 2k were straight up hill but I slogged through it, beat my goal time by close to 4 minutes and took almost 8 minutes off of my PR by repeating a quote from John Bingham, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” so now when a run is getting rough I say "I have the courage to start" out loud, over and over again.

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  32. After reading "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek, when things get tough I remind myself that the "dude won an ultra with a duct taped ankle. So suck it up, Buttercup."

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  33. My mantra is, "Go big or go home!" - spoken in my grandfather's voice. This is especially important for me right now because he's going through some really rough medical issues and is in near-constant pain along with some mental confusion. I can run every day. He can't even get out of bed, but he still keeps going BIG. So I hear his big, booming voice telling me to do it and do it BIG.

    Love this post! I like to hear that others struggle mentally (as well as physically) when racing, especially someone who's as accomplished as you are.

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  34. First of all - CONGRATS! I love following your journey. I moved from Colorado to Virginia last January and you make me feel back at home :)

    I love learning that you carry something with you when you race - your lotus necklace. I ran my second marathon last month (MCM) and I PRed by 25 minute. I do international education work all over the world and had a friend from India staying with me in early October and he gave me a box of 'bindi dots' as a present. For some reason at the last minute I decided to put a bindi dot in my pocket before the race -- best race I've ever had :)

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  35. "It's just pain leaving the body..."
    "If it was easy, anybody could do it..."
    "One foot in front of the other..."
    And just like you, I break the race into sections, and time. A half marathon isn't a 13.1 mile race, it's a nice run for a couple hours.
    Toughest ever? Several stand out in memory: My first Hotter n'Hell 100 ride in Texas was an agonizing finish, the last 10 miles into the wind at 107 degrees. My first Rn'R Marathon in Phoenix was brutal, mostly because I didn't prepare adequately with food and Gu, expecting the race organizers to supply something. My bad. And a 12 1/2 hour adventure race (team event) was painful to the very end.

    All for fun, right? But hey...if it was easy, anybody could do it. ;-)

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  36. What shoes did you run in during the marathon? Same ones you've always worn? My feet are suddenly hurting, especially after my runs.....joint and overuse pain I imagine and also from running up and down hills?? I've been running in Brooks now for a few years and they never give me blisters but this foot pain is a new thing just in the past couple of months.

    Thanks and congrats!!

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    1. I ran in my Mizuno Wave Elixirs. I did most of my training in them. I use Super Feet insoles and that has helped with support and blisters.

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  37. I am bookmarking this! I don't think I have ever truly "raced" and I'm eager to push myself to see what I can achieve. Even in silly tennis matches with my husband I often psych myself out. This was great advice - thank you!

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  38. Toughest race was the 2009 Denver Marathon. I got queasy at mile 9 and wound up finishing in 5:28. But hey, I finished! No mantra, but I counted all my steps from mile 17 onward -- run 100 steps, walk 100 steps. Repeat.

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  39. Hi Beth! i hope I'm not the only teenager girl commenting on this! But anyway I am a sucker for being defeated by the little voice in my head too, there is always a part of me that says I cant finish this race when I am trying so hard to tell my body YES you can do it! But your post really gave me more courage to face the voice and I came up with my mantra tonight because of you (even though my cross country season is over) and it's Run Fierce Feel Bold! the voice cannot break me down!!!!

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  40. You always have such good advice. Congrats again, IronWoman!!

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  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  44. too good piece of information, I had come to know about your site from my friend sajid, bangalore,i have read atleast 11 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your web-page gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new post, once again hats off to you! Thanks a lot once again, Regards, bob marley quotes

    ReplyDelete