For runners, race day can be a volatile mix of emotions. Consider the following scenarios:
- You may be super excited that The Big Day is finally here, after all the training and hard workouts you’ve put yourself through.
- You may be nervous and wondering how in the world you’re going to be able to do this Big Scary Thing that you’ve trained for.
- You may convince yourself that you “don’t care” about the race but secretly have a goal that you want to destroy — but don’t want to share with anyone out loud, for fears that you may fail.
- Or shoot, your biggest concern may be whether you’ve had a bowel movement before the gun goes off!
It’s highly likely that if you’ve ever experienced race day, your emotions have probably been some amalgamation of all of these sentiments: little nerves, some excitement, a touch of fear, a dash of disinterest, a bit of general unease, and tons more feelings that are hard to describe.
While I can’t tell you that you shouldn’t feel those feelings on race day, what I can tell you is that there’s something you can actually do to help put your feelings at bay a little bit, especially the feelings that leave you feeling anxious, nervous, and put-off.
Sure, you could always theoretically do more in training — run more miles, run harder workouts, do more core work, strength lift more regularly — but more than any of that, I think the singular thing that most runners don’t do enough of is train their mind to be ready to perform on race day.
Meditation and Running
At face value, running and meditation don’t seem to have too much in common. One is typically a very physical and strenuous full-body activity, whereas the other tends to be much slower-paced and more “intrinsic” than “extrinsic.”
Once you get beyond the initial dissimilarities, however, you’ll likely realize that running can actually be a form of “moving meditation.” If we think of meditation as the practice of turning inward in reflection, we can think of running as a series of physical movements that are cathartic in nature that in turn, allow us to turn inward.
Think about it: running is one of the most repetitive sports or hobbies there is. Unless we’re talking about a very unique type of running — say, steeplechase or hurdles, for example — by and large, running is characterized by putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again, ad infinitum. For a lot of people, that singular and repetitive motion is as meditative as it is cathartic.
Plus, when you talk to runners on the street, many — I’d argue that most, if not all — will admit that running allows them to be more mindful of their bodies in general. For them, running leaves them feeling at peace, empowered, and in a healthy state of mind, no longer beset by the worries or anxieties that may have plagued them before they began their run. (Sound familiar?)
Putting meditation to work on race day
Come race day, when nerves are high and anxieties may be reigning terror on your mental game, putting meditation to work may be the best race tactic you’ve ever employed.
Before the race begins
Perhaps during or immediately after your warm-up, take a moment with yourself. Look inward, if only briefly. Try to do some guided imagery that reminds you of how strong you feel right now and of all the hard work you’ve put in before race day arrived. Think of all the sacrifices you made as you worked on realizing your dream — the sore muscles and the early bedtimes, for example — and how it will all positively coalesce into today’s race.
You are prepared, physically and mentally.
There is no other place you should be — right now — than right here.
During the race
Races often are pretty uncomfortable or downright painful; for most people, that’s the reality of racing. You train hard and push your body to its limits because you want to see what you’re physically capable of handling. You might have begun your training block dubious of your ability to cover the race distance or execute a speed or pace that you’ve only ever dreamed of. Today, it’s your day to realize that which you’ve been working toward.
Trust in your training. When you’re competing, be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Aside from the obvious tactical suggestions — cutting tangents, not wasting energy, not surging needlessly — focus on the strength and mental fortitude that you have developed for this very day.
Again: there is no other place you should be — right now — than right here.
When things get tough or uncomfortable, you may begin reconsidering whether you’re actually capable of doing this Big Scary Thing that you’re trying to accomplish. Trepidation is healthy; it means you respect the process and the endeavor which you’re seeking to fulfill. It’s in these doubt-filled moments that your meditative practice — the time that you’ve spent talking to yourself and really believing in yourself — will shine.
Meditatively converse with yourself as you would to your best friend during his/her time of struggle. I can do this. I am strong. I am capable. I have trained hard for this. There is no other place I should be, right now, than right here.
It may be easier to you get begin to discourage yourself when things get tough, convincing yourself that you’re not as strong, fast, or fit as you think you are, but mentally trash-talking yourself is an egregious waste of time and energy.
You absolutely must believe in yourself because you are your own biggest cheerleader.
When you begin to struggle, with every step you take until the finish line, remind yourself: I can. I must. I am able.
There is no other place I should be, right now, than right here.
Finally, once you’ve completed your race, perhaps in the throes of your cool-down, take another mental moment with yourself to consider how your race went. Did it play out how you imagined it would, and why/why not did it? Meditate on your race successes and challenges and consider how you might do things differently next time.
Runners tend to be very success-driven people, so try not to get too down on yourself. Remember, too, that success is rarely linear, so it’s understandable (and expected, even) that not every race will be better than the last.
Make your running more meditative for future success
Fortunately, runners can begin incorporating meditation into part of their training right away. The market is hot right now for mindfulness-based apps, so runners need only take a little time perusing their phone’s app store to see their options. Additionally, if runners really want to heighten their meditative game, they can also look into practicing at a studio with other runner-yogis.
Getting inside your head will pay dividends on your running game, so I implore you: don’t delay! Begin talking to yourself and turning inward on your runs, and watch your next race day unfold, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.