Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a runner is important if you want to improve and lower the risk of injury. The best way to discover weaknesses is to challenge yourself during your training runs. The best time to deal with a weakness is during training runs. Physical weaknesses are easy to find as you ramp up your miles during training or when you are nearing the finish line of a race.
But knowing your mental strengths and weaknesses is just as important and maybe more so. Often times, runners don’t think about this aspect of an ultra despite the well known axiom, “the first half of a one hundred is run with your legs, the second half is run with your mind.”
There is only one race I can think of where my mental state was in a good strong place throughout the race. Everyone is going to experience ups and downs in their mood and belief in themselves during training and during races. The longer the race the more likely this is to happen.
When I first began running one hundreds, I had to deal with serious self-doubt at mile fifty. I knew that and would tell my crew to get me out of mile fifty as quickly as possible. This has diminished substantially as my experience with races has increased.
Experience has been the most helpful thing to combat these down times during a race. Having worked through hard times before, I know I can do it again. Knowing things always come up after being down, helps lift the bad mood more quickly.
A second helpful strategy is using positive affirmations to counter the negative thoughts (even if you don’t believe them and can barely think them) makes each step easier. Remind yourself you completed the training and you are in the best physical condition to complete the race.
A third helpful strategy is distraction. Talk with other runners. Notice the scenery. Pick something in the environment to find such as flowers, various shades of green, rocks, different animals or bird song. Listen to music or an audio book. Think of positive things in your life.
Fourth is having an experienced crew and upbeat supportive pacers can be a life saver. They will quickly pick up on your negative mood and can offer support rather than agree with your negativity. Even validating your feelings of “this sucks ass” can be precarious.
I’d love to hear what others have found helpful in combating negative mental states during training runs and races. Thanks in advance for your input.