The taper..that key time in our training when we turn down volume to rest and prepare for race day. The idea is that we prepare our body to be in the best shape possible physiologically so we can race at the top of our game. The only problem is that when we do take time off from running to taper, the running that we depend on both physiologically and, most importantly, psychologically, is no longer there to support us, and keep us well, sane…
That’s when it happens..little things that we take in our stride when we are in the midst of, and focused, on our training, can become so much more during a taper period. As Runner’s World describes it, “preparing for the big race, when everything, and I mean everything, seems to bother you more.” What happens is that during training our thought processes have become trained to focus in a different way; when we reduce training and have more time to think, our thought processes often take on a different route, and we create different meanings attached to sometimes the craziest of ideas, especially getting closer to race day itself.
There are plenty of tips out there for how to taper effectively in terms of training intensity, duration, workout types, and nutrition. What hasn’t had much press is how to prepare mentally for a taper period. Following are 4 tips that have proved to be the most important from working with athletes and from our own personal experience to keep you, and your mind, aligned for your best race performance.
Most runners will set themselves a target time for a race – some will better that time, some will hit target, and many will fall short of the target. As training reduces during the taper period, that goal time that we created as a possibility can become more and more of a stretch. Instead of enjoying the time during our taper and looking forward to the race approaching, it can become an increasingly stressful time as we become more anxious about our performance come race day. This becomes a vicious cycle where this kind of thought process not only changes our focus and experience, it also raises stress levels, increases risk of injury, and can push us into making decisions that are often counter productive!
Of course the process we used to arrive at our goal originally may also be setting us up for a fall. Francois De La Rochefoucauld has a great quote that sums up this process very well: “We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears.” That 2 hour half, or the 4 hour full, seems like a doable proposition back at the beginning of our training program – 3 days before race day that looks like a tall order based on our interrupted schedule, the lack of sleep when our children were ill and the new workload that arrived at work out of the blue…
Whenever we work with an athlete on goal setting, we recommend a 3 goal approach to any race.
The dream goal – this is the goal based on all the planets aligning in perfect symmetry, our training having gone to plan, nutrition spot on, and weather and course supporting our dreams…this is often the goal that we initially set for ourselves, as it’s what we would hope we can achieve…
The realistic goal – this is the goal that you have a realistic chance of achieving, based on the realities of life, training, things not quite going to dream plan, etc..
The baseline goal – the goal that you will accept yourself no matter what takes place..remember to focus on those things that you can control. Often what happens in a race is outside of your control!
Fear of the unknown
This is especially true if this is your first race at a particular distance, or your first race on a specific course. Coming up to your first half or full marathon? Focus on how strong you have felt in training, running beyond, or close to the race distance. The course is new to you? Check out all the information you can on the route, including the elevation profile. Make sure you can go and check out the course before race day, even create an opportunity to run part of it so you have a chance to experience part of the run…The elevation profile can be really useful, especially for races that are at higher elevation.
Don’t listen and accept everyone’s reaction to a particular course or part of the course – someone else’s response is going to be determined by their experience of the race, guided by their own training history and status. We always recommend keeping an open mind on a course, doing your own checking and building what you know about the course into training.
Hopefully everything else that is unknown will have been uncovered in your training – what shoes to wear, hydration and nutrition strategies, race gear, pre-race warm up and dynamic stretching. You can control many factors that will impact your race experience and performance.
Our minds are incredibly creative, and can often lead us down some dark roads if we allow that to happen. Many athletes will say they have limited control over their thoughts at times, at which point we ask the question, why? Who is in control of our own minds if it’s not us?? Our minds process information and react in ways that we have learned over time. The reality is we have the choice to react in a fresh, new way at any given moment – in practice this is not always the case! We tend to react in the same way to a given situation, whether that is the best rational choice or not…
One trap that athletes can often fall into is to blow a situation into a much larger issue than it actually is. An example of this is our thoughts on a particular climb on a race course. Before we have even had the chance to look or run it, this climb has already created a detailed image in our minds. We repeat these thoughts over and over, until we reach a point where we believe it to be real! Repeated thoughts become beliefs, even if they are not rational!
During an Active Mind Race Camp™ you will learn how to reduce the impact of those inaccurate and negative perceptions, using a technique that will reprogram your neural pathways and leave you free to have a race experience free of pre-programming, and also how to amplify your strengths.
Create your vision
One of the foundational components of an Active Mind Race Camp™ is a guided visualization session. This tool is incredibly powerful – I was first introduced to the technique when studying Sports Psychology at DeMontfort University in Bedford, England. A guided visualization session creates a personalized vision for your race experience. Our recommendation is to use the session to strengthen your weakest link. Many athletes think that visualization is focused on the goal – the reality is that it is process focused, which of course then empowers you to achieve your goal.
To illustrate how this works, we will use the example of a friend, runner, and freelance journalist, Lisa Marshall. Despite training strongly, Lisa would talk herself out of a good race performance by listening to negative self talk around mile 10 in a half marathon distance. She didn’t need to focus in her visualization on the first 10 miles, as she already had that down very successfully. We worked on a strategy to change her experience over the last 3 miles. Instead of her memory of slowing down in the last 3 miles, she focused on a visualization where she maintained strength and speed, all while staying relaxed and focused. She linked this vision to a mantra, words that were very personal to her. The words aligned with the visualization so that they made an even more powerful experience for her. Lastly, she created an anchor or trigger, that she could tap into at any time and automatically switch into the state she had practiced in the visualization. She rehearsed this several times before her goal race, and was delighted when she exceeded her goal time and set a PR for a half marathon. With this tool she has now become a stronger and more confident runner. Lisa benefited so much from the technique that she wrote a feature that appeared recently inCompetitor magazine.
The importance of mental training is increasingly becoming recognized in the running literature. Active Mind Race Camps™ gives you an opportunity to be introduced to the tools that sports psychologists have been using with elite athletes for many years. Training our minds will become as important a factor in our training as the physiological programs we are familiar with.
Check our website for latest information on races we partner with, including the vacation races half marathon series, www.vacationraces.com
Contact us for more information on Active Mind Race Camps™, or personalized mental preparation coaching.
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