“So, Adrienne, what do you think about when you’re racing?”
I often get asked that question, so today I’m cracking open my own head and giving you guys a look into my own race mindset (while racing). No promises, but I’ll do my best to edit for clarity and semi-coherence!
For as long as I’ve been practicing, I’ve found that self-talk, when used consistently and in the right context, is one of the best weapons in a runner’s arsenal. It’s something I encourage my athletes to be aware of and leverage often, and it’s one of the mental skills that I myself use the most often.
As a sport psychologist, I’ve had the privilege of studying the effects of our own self-directed smack-talk, praise, or utter randomness on performance, and today you lucky kids get a demo of it in action. (For those who want to dive deeper into the science of it, you can check it out here).
TEXAS XC IN AUGUST
Okay, let’s get down to it.
The other day I ran my first race of the “fall” season; a 2-mile open cross-country race (wanna know what shoe I wore? Check it out).
I do realize this race was not exactly, well… long. But trust me ultra geeks— this one required some talking through (you know what I’m talking about if you read my July article).
Anyway, it was Texas in August, so the conditions were hot and humid, with an added stretch of fresh mud across three loops.
Let’s walk through my mindset of this race (in which I did finish first OA female). You’ll notice right away that I talk to myself in the second person almost exclusively and that’s by design— I’m self-coached, so it works!
INSIDE MY RACING MIND
START (LOOP 1)
Gun goes off, as does everyone else at a very fast pace:
This is where you settle in, relax and stay in control. The others are gonna do what they are gonna do.
Navigate these turns and stay calm. You have this.
Pass people but you don’t have to force it. Nice… Good…
I was running second female on the first loop, with the leader seemingly out of contact. Then we came up on the mud:
Run your own race, stay on the edge. You can do this.
It’s so hot.
Stay relaxed, this won’t take long.
You see those people dodging mud, just run through it. Lame.
Crap. This mud is hard. (Notice how I don’t fight that fact. I simply look to something more important)
Head down… lean forward… quick steps. You’re good at running through this junk.
Coming out of the mud, I managed to take the lead on a flat stretch:
There you go, A, all those miles are paying off.
It’s hot… but I can handle it…. stay in front.
Don’t worry about the clock. It hurts, but it’s temporary. Focus on your cadence. You’re killing this.
Breathe and relax.
You won’t think this was that hard tomorrow.
I start chasing after a fast dude and have to refocus:
Own race. Too soon, A. You’re good. See that corner, stay on pace until there. Okay, good. Use the downhill.
Incline with mud again, going into last loop, and breathing is very difficult:
This is all you have to do, A, stay in rhythm.
This won’t be so bad once you finish. Give me what you have.
Stay in the game. You’re doing great.
Can you give me a little more? 800 left. You so have this.
FINAL TURN INTO THE FINISH CHUTE
Oh, heck yes.
Ouch. Get to the line.
You’re strong, A. So strong.
Get it, get it.
CROSS THE FINISH LINE. DONE.
Just feeling pleased with how it went and that the discomfort is out.
Now, where are the athletes I work with?
I wanted to give you a good sample of what (mostly) positive self-talk can do for you in a race, and a model for how one can use it. One thing I’d like to point out is that at various junctures, there were negative times, and times I simply used just one or two words as that was a more stressful section of the course.
Fans of this mental skill should also know that if your internal dialogue is functional or positive, make this process totally your own because we race best when we’re being ourselves.
Enjoy the ride.