Running a Personal Best requires an extraordinary effort that goes beyond your previous limits.
You’re in uncharted territory. With a good race strategy – like the ones in the free ebook 13 Lucky Racing Tips to Run Your Next Personal Best – you may accomplish your goal.
But physically, you are literally performing at a level higher than you ever have in the past.
That’s stressful. Both physically and mentally.
Alberto Salazar famously said:
“I had as many doubts as everyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.”
Even elite athletes like Salazar, who won the New York City Marathon three times, doubted himself.
Attempting a PR creates a lot of negative feelings for runners who put pressure on themselves to perform. There’s nothing wrong with pre-race stress – it’s a healthy reminder that you’re alive.
But stress is different than doubt. Unneeded anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity can undermine your PR effort and erode your self-confidence.
Believing in your fitness, trusting the work you’ve done, and being confident in your abilities is more than psychological woo-woo or new age self-help garbage.
Self-confidence is the difference between a PR and another “ok race.” It’s the difference between no medal and Olympic glory.
Before Billy Mills won Gold in the 1964 Olympic 10k, he was a nobody. A relative unknown – and the first American to win a medal at this distance – he was overlooked by every critic to be in contention at the end of the race.
He said before the race:
“God has given me the ability. The rest is up to me. Believe. Believe. Believe.”
And there he was, 400m from the finish, in 3rd place.
Mills outsprinted the entire field, winning Gold and running 50 seconds faster than he ever had before.
His confidence is what allowed him to dominate and make history – not his fitness level, which was about the same as everyone else in the lead pack.
How do you channel the same confidence as Billy Mills? How do you defeat the “inner coward” that Salazar mentioned?
Today, I’ll show you how to finally gain the mental edge you need for your next breakthrough.
Admit It: Races are Hard (but that’s ok)
Pushing yourself through fatigue to a new PR is uncomfortable and can be downright painful. The burn of acidic muscles and the gasps from starved lungs are a strong reminder that your body is struggling.
Interestingly, even though you think, “I’m dying right now!” or “There’s no way I can finish!” you’re far from your body’s limits. It’s nearly impossible to do any lasting damage from running too hard because your brain has a way of regulating your effort to maintain homeostasis (fancy talk for “a stable internal system” or “equilibrium”).
Most of the time, your brain slows you down before you’re in any danger. Actually, way before you’re in any danger.
There’s a reason why Matt Fitzgerald, author of Brain Training for Runners, tries to suffer as much as possible during his first race of the season. He wants his brain to recognize that races hurt but they pose no real danger. Homeostasis will be preserved.
Next time, you’ll be able to more comfortably exert the same effort (and probably even more). Nevertheless, this brain hack still requires you to hop on the pain train.
I sometimes tell my runners that racing pain is temporary, of course, but at the end of the day it’s just running. It’s not going to kill you.
Mark Wetmore, head cross country coach at the University of Colorado, says of race pain:
“In football, you might get your bell rung, but you go in with the expectation that you might get hurt, and you hope to win and come out unscathed. As a distance runner, you know you’re going to get your bell rung. Distance runners are experts at pain, discomfort, and fear. You’re not coming away feeling good. It’s a matter of how much pain you can deal with on those days. It’s not a strategy. It’s just a callusing of the mind and body to deal with discomfort. Any serious runner bounces back. That’s the nature of their game. Taking pain.”
So get over it.
Racing hurts. Everyone is experiencing the same feelings. Acknowledge it, accept it, and move on.
You’ll cross the finish line before you realize it.
Relax to Run Faster
Think back to the last time you were a spectator at a local 5k. You probably saw runners with faces twisted in agony, hands clenched in tight fists, and choppy strides struggling to reach the finish line.
Did these people just give birth? Or perhaps finish the Navy SEALS week-long boot camp?
No, they’re just racing a 5k. These sights are unfortunately common at every race.
But staying calm and relaxed – both physically and mentally – will help you run a lot faster. Instead of straining to extract every ounce of energy that you have left and using that energy to contort your face and clench your fists, use it to run faster!
Just watch any elite race and the winner will most likely look calm, focused, and relaxed – his stride pattern and body position exactly the same as when the race started.
Truthfully, every runner is struggling mightily at the end of a race, even the ones that look fluid and composed. But instead of focusing on the pain of racing, the runners with relaxed dispositions are focusing on running faster.
There’s no time or energy to waste on funny faces. My high school cross country coach told us to repeat “cue words” in our heads during the last mile of a race to remind us to run controlled.
Words like glide, relax, fluid, control, smooth, fly.
Choose one that works for you and stop wasting mental energy on looking like you’re running hard. Use your energy more wisely to run fast.
There’s a big difference there – and it’s all about control. Weldon Johnson, the founder of LetsRun.com, said in a great article:
“Too many people confuse “hard” with fast. The next time you see Bernard Lagat running, tell me how “hard” it looks like he’s running. And if you are running “hard” on all your runs and all your intervals, you will never teach your body to relax while running fast which is the key to running even faster.”
Trust Your Training
Nothing increases confidence more than doing the hard work necessary to succeed.
I’ve heard from a lot of runners who struggle with direction and consistency. They say things like:
My biggest problem at this point is not knowing where to go and how to best reach my goal.
Trying to find balance between training and my job is a constant struggle, always thinking should I run, rest or strength train today.
How do you overcome the fear of injury?
Would they have the same fears and doubts if they believed in their training? What if they had a customized training plan that was built specifically for their fitness level, injury history, and goal?
Most runners don’t want to spend hours – or days – researching the best ways to get strong, increase their mileage, or how to build a plan that incorporates three tune-up races.
Find a trusted coach who does know these things. When you have a proven plan for your race, you won’t stress about details and you’ll start seeing workout results week after week.
Maybe you need higher mileage. Or better strength routines. Or simply more focused speed workouts.
How much more confident would you be if you knew that your training improved on your weaknesses – and highlighted your strengths?
Just like Billy Mills, when the training is trusted and done, you can then focus on believing in your new abilities.
That’s the stuff Personal Records are made from.
And if you need a proven race strategy, learn from the best by downloading the free ebook 13 Lucky Racing Tips. With advice from Olympic Trials Qualifiers, elite coaches, and 2:22 marathoners, you’ll find a new strategy that works for you.
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Get the Strength Running PR Guide ebook and tips to run faster (without the injuries).