Coach Mike Mead

November 2010

Running Psyched; not Psyched Out

I’ve written in the past about the mental side of running. When one gets to a particular level of competitiveness, mental preparation is vital.

As a college coach, I’ve discovered this season how several of my student-athletes have struggled with the mental side of running. Most importantly, some have psyched themselves out when it comes to racing.

I have stressed to my athletes the importance of running with confidence. But in order to run confident, it is also important to have properly trained to be prepared to handle the “big races.” The two go hand in hand. You don’t train adequately – like logging in the miles to lay your base – you will likely not be able to handle challenging races, or aspects of your racing to make major breakthroughs in your progression.

I have also learned that some of my runners who have put in the necessary training, still lack the confidence in their racing because of factors like not racing enough, or lack the experience of big races to know how to run with the “big guns.”

Many times when faced with racing challenges, many runners simply get psyched out for whatever reason. I think it is important for a runner to identify and meet these challenges head-on.

For example, several of my women on our cross country team ran lackluster performances in a big meet earlier this fall. They had decent success in several small meets leading up to the meet in question. But when it was time to race in the big meet, those who ran poorly got too nervous or overwhelmed by the size of the field.

In hindsight, I failed to mentally walk them through the mental preparation for such a race. That’s the bottom line – being mentally ready and having a plan of action.

Most of the time, runners will have a plan or goal, but we’ll let outside circumstances make them change their thoughts and effect these plans. In the case of a big race, fear is the biggest detractor for runners.

So how does one get psyched and not psyched out? I’ve always believed that running in big races or facing a tough competitor is an opportunity for a good race. Instead of fearing the field size or level of competition, one needs to embrace the challenge as an opportunity for a season- or career-best.

If you are in a big field, don’t fear the numbers. There are going to be some folks you just will not be able to run with, but there will also be runners that will not be able to run with you. Front runners don’t worry about the back-of-the-pack runners. They’re focused up front and so should you. Stay focused on those who are just maybe a little faster than you and do your best to hang with them, according to your pre-race game plan. Instead of worrying about 500 runners in a race, that number is more manageable when you focus on more realistic numbers. In reality, you may have only a handful of runners to really sweat.

Don’t have a pre-race game plan? Well, that’s your first mistake. Have a plan whether it be running a certain time for the first mile, or running with someone for a certain distance in the race. Whatever you decide, do your best to stick with the plan.

When it comes to a higher level of competition, again embrace the opportunity! Knowing that they may start the race harder then you or run faster overall, here’s your chance to challenge yourself by maybe making some slight adjustments to your plans and hanging with them longer to get pulled through to a faster finish and a PR!

Anytime you enter a race with fear, your results will likely not be favorable and you will not learn anything from your racing experience to improve the next time. It will only mean that the next big race, you will go in being more scared! Entering the next race with a plan and actually looking forward to the challenge should build more confidence for the next racing challenge.

That’s the great thing about running competition, you can risk making mistakes and come away better for the next challenge. So in the future, get psyched and not psyched out with your running.

Good luck!