For the many who are about to enter their racing season I dedicate the following. I'm sure at least some of what you are about to read is applicable to athletes of all sports---
An all too common occurrence among runners is when weeks or months of preparation for a "big" race end in a poor performance on race day. Too often this is the result of letting our fears and anxieties take control. Quite frequently, runners attempt to deal with these feelings by training hard practically up to the day of the race and not using their heads once the race starts.
Studies have shown that if a reasonably fit runner does not run for a week he'll lose only 5% of his overall fitness. However, this percentage increases dramatically if he goes into a second and third week of not training. So I ask, what can you do in terms of training in that final week to improve your performance? I say not much. What can you do in this same final week to ruin your race? A whole lot! I at one time had naively believed that not backing off before a big race was something that only novice runners did, I've come to find that this is also quite common among experienced runners who you think would know better.
You may be thinking, "OK, I need to rest before a big race." Yes that's true but there's more to it than just easing up or resting, it's about having your mind in control of every aspect of your being. It's about putting our body into subjection. As Cerutty said: "Total subjection of the body by the mind is a necessity for the athlete who wants to reach his potential."
How well I recall days past as a coach of going on 6 hour van trips the day before a cross-country meet. Arriving tired and stiff, many of the runners had an almost frantic compulsion to get to the motel, change and go out for an easy half-hour run.Those who opted to take the head coach's suggestion of going to an area mall and walk around for awhile were looked upon as wimps. Thinking back on it, was anything really gained from that half-hour run? Outside of temporarily subduing an anxious mind, nothing was accomplished. It would have been better for them to relax and walk around with their teammates, getting the muscles stretched out while enjoying themselves. There would be plenty of time the next morning to focus on the race. I have found one thing about the fears and anxieties that may be a part of our racing life, and that is if you don't get control of them, they will always reappear.
Some other examples of fear and anxiety run amuck: how 'bout the pre-race warm-up? How often have you heard runners say, "I feel terrible." You've probably said it yourself at some time. Then, after starting the race, when you're a quarter mile or so into it, you're thinking something like, "Boy do I feel crappy." From this point on you become open for any sign that will reinforce these negative thoughts. The good news is that you can overcome the fears and anxieties connected with racing but it takes time and is an ongoing process. To accomplish this I strongly recommend having a list that you bring out a week before each race. What follows are some physical and psychological guides that comprise this list. By the way, I'm referring to races from 1,500 to 10,000 meters here. A 30k,marathon or longer distance requires a specific physical tapering schedule. Obviously, the "mental" aspects of this list are applicable to any distance. Ladies and Gentlemen,The List:
1. Tell yourself, I've done the work, I've put in months of hard training, now it's time to rest and allow my body to be totally prepared to race. As an aside, this may come as a surprise to some but our bodies are not machines that can be worked hard day in and day out. Rest is a necessity, it is one of the three vital components to race preparation along with training and nutrition. Neglect one of the three and it will negatively affect performance. A sample race week tapering schedule might look something like this:
Monday: a moderately hard workout, some type of fartlek comes to mind.
Tuesday: an easy jog.
Wednesday: an optional day off or light fartlek run, emphasis on light here.
Thursday: a short jog
Friday: an optional day off or easy jog in the morning.
Note: Distances,intensity,and duration of even your easy runs are lessened race week.
2. Expect to get antsy race week. You're not doing as much this week as you have in past weeks and months,so it's only natural that you are going to get restless. Expect it and deal with it,but don't do so by training "as usual."
3. It's a race. Keep things in proper perspective. For most,this won't be the Olympic trials,your legacy as a runner does not hinge on this race. You'll be running many,many more. It's better to be blase about a race than to arrive at the start in a panicked state. Remind yourself that most everyone in the race is feeling nervous and anxious,but,unlike you,they don't have these feelings under control.
4.At the start, Stay Calm! As the race begins remind yourself to run your race. Ninety percent of most road races are made up of runners who start out like "frightened hares"(rabbits) as Percy used to say.For most, that first mile is run way too fast,don't get suckered into going out with them.In the beginning you must control the adrenaline and excitement. Remember,your mind is controlling things,not your body. If you do find that you are suffering a little as a result of going out too fast too soon,drop your pace down,concentrate on staying relaxed,breathe deeply and tell yourself you'll recover. The well-conditioned athlete will recover and be able to resume his pace.
Let these four points be the start of your list. Add other things you may need to remember. Don't be like so many others who,race after race,year after year,make the same mistakes and wonder why they don't get the results that correspond to the training and effort put forth. Serious runners deserve better.