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Ask the Elites: How Do You Mentally Prepare for a Big Race?

Ask the Elites: How Do You Mentally Prepare for a Big Race?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 5:31pm
Katilin Sheedy shown winning the Nike Women's Half earlier this year.

Katilin Sheedy shown winning the Nike Women's Half earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Sheedy. 

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Ask the Elites: How Do You Mentally Prepare for a Big Race?


Lisa Chilcote of Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCCRC): Try not to think about it.

Dionis Gauvin of MCRRC: I try to remind myself, over and over again, that I should start conservatively in order to finish strong.  Unfortunately, I don't always follow my own advice/mental preparation.

David Magida of Reebok Spartan Race Pro Team: I like to do visualization each night before bed for about 5 minutes. Diaphragmatic breathing while you do so is a great way to get your mind in the right place. I envision strong form, calm breathing and of course, victory. On the day of the race, I try to just be as relaxed as possible. Have fun. Smile. Remember you’re racing because you love competing.

Kristi Markowicz of Pacers New Balance: Admittedly, I used to be better at race preparation, so this is the toughest question for me.  I generally like to look over the course ahead of time (but am not always as prepared anymore--life has gotten too busy!).  I used to visualize all of the time as well, before falling asleep but don't always do that anymore either.  I do always stretch well before bed the night before a race.  I also have my pre-race day workout out, which is always a short run (25 min or so) and 6 strides with plenty of stretching.  I make sure to do that in the morning the day before a race.

Lauren Klumpp of Potomac River Running: Mental preparation is so important for me.  I have found that I do much better when I start visualizing at the beginning of the week.  On weeks where I let work consume too much of my time and thoughts, I don't perform as well because I did not get mentally psyched.  Several things that help me are to visualize that great feeling that I will have at the finish line.  But I also visualize the moments of pain which really helps me.  I mentally prepare myself to deal with the pain on certain parts of the race that I know I want to push myself and that helps me stay mentally strong through the tough zones.

Christina Papoulias of MCRRC: A lot of visualization.  On runs the week leading up to the race, I like to zone out and imagine it is race day and picture myself running strong. 

Kaitlin Sheedy of Capital Area Runners (CAR):  I mentally prepare for a race throughout my training, but especially in track workouts, tempos and long runs. During those workouts there are times when things get both physically and mentally challenging, so it’s important for me to push through those points to build my confidence for when I experience those ups and downs during a race. I also try to do a few “tune up” races before my big goal race, so I can practice being in a scenario where my adrenaline and nerves are pumping. For the last several big races I’ve run, I’ve tried to stay relaxed but fearless by pretending it’s just another long run or workout, which I’ve found helpful.

Ryan Witters of Georgetown Running Club (GRC): I like to check out the past results of each race I run.  It helps me gauge the level of competition and get a feel for what pace(s) to expect.  Also music, must have music!

Editor's note: this post was originally published October 2014. 

About the Author

Jamie Corey is a RRCA certified coach and author of Jamie has completed eight marathons, several triathlons and is currently training for her first Ironman. When she isn't trying to find the best bagel in town, she is usually tweeting at @TheRunster.