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There is a lot of information out there about training for your next race – what workouts to run, how many days a week to train, and how much mileage you should run every week. One of the most important aspects of racing well is the mental side of running. Being mentally prepared to run a race is much different than lacing up your shoes to head out for a daily distance run.
Racing takes mental stamina, focus, and courage. After all, the point of a race is to test your body and see how hard you can push it. If your head is not in the game – if you don’t get to the starting line ready to perform – then your time will suffer. You may not get that personal best you were aiming for, reach your Boston Marathon qualifier, or be as competitive as you were hoping for in your age group.
Mentally preparing yourself to race fast is a must. Some runners get inspiration from quotes about running, others try visualization, and yet another is to determine your pre-race personality. What do you prefer to do during the hour before the gun goes off? This can give you clues to how to better structure this time for your next race.
Your Pre-Race Personality
Go to any race, and you’ll see many different types of runners: back and mid-packers and those contending for the win. Even though all of these runners have different ability levels and goals, they’ll fall into one of two different race-day personalities. Figuring out your pre-race personality can help you play to your strengths and get you to the starting line mentally prepared to run your next PR.
The first type of runner is the Loner. This person typically avoids socializing with other runners before the start of the race and prefers to be alone with his thoughts. He likes to focus intently on the race and the race plan he has created, oftening using visualization techniques. He prefers to warm-up alone and, if forced to run with others, won’t say much.
Loner personalities will avoid all distractions and focus on getting mentally psyched up to race. They’ll usually listen to music using headphones, further isolating themselves. In addition to isolation, music helps this type of runner get geared up to race by increasing energy levels (think hard rock or rap music).
The Social Butterfly
If “the loner” doesn’t sound like you, you’re probably the Social Butterfly. Unlike the Loner, this type of runner prefers to be around others. He ignores thoughts about the race during the hour before the gun, usually talking and joking with his friends or other runners.
The Social Butterfly is more casual about the race and acts nonchalant about the task ahead of him. Instead of visualization methods, this runner will almost pretend he’s not racing soon. You’ll never see the Social Butterfly wearing headphones – that’s too serious. He will always try to warm-up with others.
Both runners can be very serious about racing well but their approaches to the anxiety of race day are very different. The Loner feeds of the anxious energy, directing it towards his goal of running well. The Social Butterly has usually already developed a race plan and knows what he has to do during the race. Beforehand, he prefers to be with his friends and not get overly worked up about the race. Both strategies can work very well depending on how you’re wired.
Using Your Pre-Race Personality To Run At Your Best
Once you know which personality you are, it’s time to use this information to put you in the zone before your next race. By knowing the type of runner you are on race day, you can develop a plan to help you get mentally prepared to race at your best.
The biggest challenge to disrupting your plan is the race venue itself. Every race has its own feel – some have bands while others are small neighborhood races with no on-site entertainment. Each type of race venue will have its own challenges for each type of pre-race personality. No matter what issues come up, stick with your pre-race plan.
The Social Butterly should arrive with a race plan already developed so you don’t have to dwell on the race. If thinking about the race makes you nervous or drains your energy, avoid it at all costs. It will only hurt your performance. You will thrive with other runners around you, so if possible bring a few friends who also like to hang out before the gun fires.
Music probably won’t help you get ready to race as it will force you to be alone with your thoughts. You may start thinking about the race and get nervous, which is not what you want. If being nervous saps your energy levels, stay with other people and don’t talk about the race. Keep the atmosphere light and talk about other subjects besides running.
The Loner will want a much different environment in order to thrive. You will still want to develop a race plan before you arrive, but feel free to go through it in your mind and tweak it if necessary. Some runners actually feed of anxious, nervous energy and it revs them up to race. If this is you, get nervous!
You’ll definitely want music with you on race day to help increase your energy levels. Being mentally prepared means using all of the strategies available to you – for Loners, music is incredibly valuable. You’ll also want to travel to races alone or else risk pissing your friends off by being unfriendly (tell them you can chat after the race).
Personally, I’m more of a Social Butterfly. Dwelling on the upcoming race makes me nervous and then I feel flat. This was never a problem for me in high school or college because there were always a lot of people around to talk with. I never owned an MP3 player (I still don’t) and would rather crack jokes before the start than talk about my plan for the third mile of the race.
It has been tough post-collegiately because I’ve often traveled alone to races and had nothing to do for an hour before the race. In situations like this, I people-watch. I know that visualizing or getting psyched up is counter-productive to the type of runner I am so I just avoid it altogether. I’m not going to fight a losing battle.
So even in unfavorable environments, you can still stay mentally prepared to race well. Avoid the energy zappers and focus on what works for you. You’ll be racing fast and setting personal bests in no time.