Your Body’s Ready for the Broad Street Run. Now It’s Time to Train Your Mind.
Running coach Cory Smith gives us two techniques to mentally push through the 10-mile race.
Each week leading up to the Broad Street Run on May 5th, local running coach Cory Smith shares his training tips and tricks for the epic 10-miler. Here are some of them.
No matter how many miles you log before a big race, there’s no escaping that point where your breathing becomes labored and your legs feel heavier. Slowing down seems inevitable — but it doesn’t have to be. What you choose to do in this moment is completely within your control.
For most, the goal of training is to develop the cardiovascular and muscular systems in preparation for the physical demands of running. However, runners are much more than lungs, heart, and muscles. You have another system, with perhaps a bigger role, that signals your lungs to contract, your heart to beat, and your legs to move: the nervous system.
Think of your brain as your body’s command center. Once your cardiovascular and muscular systems start approaching their limits, your brain sends signals to start shutting them down, and fatigue will begin to set in. In most cases, this “need” to slow down is only a message from your brain, but you’re physically still capable of continuing at or faster than your current pace. It is your body’s defense mechanism, protecting you against potential harm that may occur.
This explains why you can find the energy to suddenly sprint across the finish line despite feeling sluggish throughout an entire race. The marvels of the human body, right? However, there are a few strategies you can take ahead of time to assure your brain is just as ready as your body to make that final push.
Visualization is a mental technique used by top athletes across all sports and is proven to be one of the most effective mental-performance strategies. It involves creating mental images of desired outcomes before they happen.
You’ll want to imagine you’re feeling good and relaxed at a particular point in the race. During your long runs or difficult workouts, picture being in the middle of the race. Focus on feeling comfortable while maintaining or elevating your pace. Say to yourself, “I’ve got this, I feel good.” The more you practice this technique, the better.
Chunking is a method that involves breaking a larger task into smaller, more manageable pieces. Runners can use this technique to help deal with the pain of running near their maximum ability for extended periods of time or distance.
Ideally, you want to aim for three or four smaller sections. Approach each piece or “chunk” with a different attitude that you plan ahead of time. Identify which chunks will require the most physical and mental effort and, therefore, will be the most difficult.
Here’s an example of chunking a 10-mile race. Break it into three chunks: the first five miles, the middle three miles, and the last two miles. The first five miles will be the easiest of the three chunks and will require the least mental and physical effort. Think of it as a fast warm-up and not part of the race. Stay calm and enjoy the sights.
Now you’re left with two chunks totaling five miles. This is the meat of the race. And, hey, racing five miles sounds a whole lot easier than racing 10 miles, right?
So your race really starts at mile six. Fatigue will start to set in, and your pace may begin to lag. This is when you should start tapping into your mental power to avoid slowing.
The last two miles will be tougher physically then mentally. At this point, your mind knows the finish is close and will start to lift the brakes. Think of it as a two-mile race now, and give it your all.
Here’s the key: You’ll need to practice these techniques ahead of your race. Use your training runs, long runs, and workouts to hone these skills. Visualize yourself at the six-mile marker feeling strong and relaxed. Chunk your long runs into three pieces, tackling each piece with a different game plan.
Running at your limit is a balance between peak athletic fitness and a strong focused mind. On race day, when you line up at the starting line, replay in your mind all the training runs and workouts you’ve pushed through. Physically, the work is done. Just remember when that cynical voice in your head tells you to ease up (and it will!), don’t listen to it. You still have gas in your tank.
Cory Smith is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners achieve personal bests in distances ranging from 800 meters to 100 miles. He is a multiple-time NCAA Division One Regional qualifier and two-time National Championship qualifier while at Villanova University. Along with his work for Philadelphia magazine, Cory serves as a running editor for Gear Institute and is a regular contributor to Outside Magazine, Trail Runner, Gear Patrol, and Gear Junkie.