Here are some of my tips on how I mentally prepare before a race, competition or sporting event.
1. Accept my current fitness state
Hopefully, I have been able to complete all the training I need. In this case, I feel reassured in knowing I have trained as hard as I could. However, sometimes training doesn’t go to plan. If that happens, I try to just accept my level of fitness and stop worrying. There is nothing I can do about it anymore. It’s hard to do but well worth making peace with myself.
2. Visualise the race
For bigger events, I do my research and gather as much information as I can on the event. I study the event website (running race course and profile, cut off times …), I read blogs on the event and as many articles as I can find. Also, I’m not shy to ask previous participants or friends with more experience. With all this information in mind and when I can find some quiet time (not so easy with 3 young children… :)), I visualise the event and what I want to achieve. Step by step. Over and over.
3. Have all my gear ready
I decide in advance what gear I need and I have it prepared and ready ahead of time. This is particularly true for A events (i.e. my main events). For example, before flying to South Africa for the Comrades 90km race, I planned weeks in advance. Thanks to Nick Bubb for tips on nutrition products to bring to the race! And of course, ideally I will have tested all my equipment before the race. For smaller events, I am way more relaxed and I just prepare my racing clothes and drop bag the evening prior. This means I don’t stress about whether I have remembered to bring everything at the last minute or on the morning of the event.
4. Don’t worry about uncontrollable or external factors
I try not to worry about uncontrollable and external factors such as weather conditions or unexpected last minute amendments in the event. Heavy rain, heat or snow can have a massive impact on a race. But I try to be prepared for most eventualities and what could go wrong, and then not stress about it.
Another example of last minute unexpected change happened at the New Forest half marathon last month, where the race ended up being delayed by over an hour. This threw off completely my nutrition strategy as I had timed my breakfast and gel intake based on the initial start time. Also, I had already warmed up by the time the announced the delayed start. However, I tried not to let it bother me. I just stayed very relaxed, mentally focused and adapted my nutrition plan accordingly.
Finally, I try not to let external factors distract me, like the expectations of others. I focus on my mission and clear my mind of any distractions and negative thoughts.
5. Get some sleep in early
With the excitement of a big event building up, I normally find it more and more difficult to sleep as the event gets closer. So I try and catch up on as much sleep as possible starting several days before the race. Before my first ultra, I was so excited I didn’t manage to sleep at all the night before, tossing and turning and worrying about not sleeping and how my tired body would cope the following day. I ended up fresh and full of energy during the race. My body was recharged from good quality sleep from earlier in the week and the adrenaline carried me through the day.
6. Read a motivational / inspirational article, blog, book the night before
This is one of my favourites. Before any major event, I find something inspirational to read before going to bed. There are so many great books and articles out there, the possibilities are endless.
I have a specific passage from an amazing ultra-runner that works for me. It’s just a couple pages long and I read it before every event.
7. Leave plenty of time to get to the event
On race morning, I usually get up bright and early. I like to enjoy breakfast before I leave as I don’t like racing on an empty stomach. In order to reduce the stress of missing the start, I leave plenty of time to get to the event and have enough leeway for issues such as getting lost, traffic, parking, registration queues, unexpected loo stops …
8. Listen to relaxing or inspiring songs
Sometimes, I also like to listen to songs which I enjoy and relax me on the morning of an event.
9. Be focused on the start line
From the start line I try to stay focused and I concentrate on what I need to do to perform to my expectations.
10. Believe, and once again, dare to dream!