My good friend and past training partner Matt Johnston decided to take some time out of his busy schedule to write a guest post for StrongerRunner.com on mental preparation for racing.

Matt’s a Performance Enhancement Consultant at Centered Lifestyle (www.centeredlifestyle.com) and he also represented Canada at the international level in Athletics.

Take it away Matt…

The following is a combination of my experience as a professional athlete and the research I have reviewed in the realm of athletic performance enhancement.

In order for these mental preparation tips to be effective, you have to be physically prepared for the demands of the competition for which you have set out to tackle. Battling through injury or setting your goals too high, makes mental preparation largely ineffective because the prolonged benefits of proper mental preparation involve being honest with yourself and knowing where you stand in your training cycles. Think of your consistent injury-free training as the basic ingredients for baking a cake and once it cools down, mental preparation is the icing that is applied to complete it. What follows is a very brief description of some important mental preparation tips that each and in themselves could be a series of future, more elaborate posts.

Top Five Tips for Pre-Race Mental Preparation

 
1. Feeling alert and slightly nervous is an indication you are ready. Acknowledge that butter flies and slight anxiety is an indication that you are in the right pre-race mindset. There is an optimal level of arousal for each person that corresponds to ideal race performance. Too laid back is an indication that you may not be focused on the demands of the competition at hand. Conversely, being overly anxious is likely an indication that you have set your goals too high. If you feel overly anxious before a race, you may benefit from relaxation techniques that involve resetting your breathing pattern, thereby facilitating a calmer mindset and correspondingly, lower muscle tension that is associated with excessive anxiety.

2. Create a mental map of the course and pair it with positive, process-oriented feelings. Run the course several days prior to the race (if not possible, look at the race progression chart online) and spend time visualizing each kilometer, pairing various parts of the course with how you want to be feeling. Keep this visualization very vivid, but use simple key words like “breathe through the pain” or “keep loose” at difficult parts of the race. Because we tend to be focused during the race, using complicated mantras usually do not work, because they are easy to forget in the moment.

3. Strive for personal excellence rather than perfection. This applies to any runner from novice to world record holder. We do not have much control over external results because results largely depend on the performance of our competitors and how we perform on the given day. Personal excellence however, is largely intrinsic, meaning that our goals and achievements come from within us and we are not distracted by the performance of others around us. When we focus on extrinsic goals, we are prone to overlooking the unpredictable and often uncontrollable challenges that get us to the finish line.

4. Focus on process rather than outcome goals. We live in a society that is obsessed with outcome achievements based around results. While your job may require you to live in this mindset, the most successful athletes train within themselves. They do not focus on what other athletes are doing unless it motivates them to become better. Your goals should be on things like improving your race time in comparison to the previous year, or tackling a tough kilometer faster than years past.

5. You pick the races, they do not pick you. You are most likely to experience flow when your skills match the level of challenge. Often, people think more is better, and quickly jump up to a distance that they are not prepared for on a physical and mental/emotional level. Aside from the physical challenges of staying injury-free, our mindset is going to be flooded with insecurity and self-doubt over a prolonged period of time in the race. Some people think this is part of the challenge and celebrate how hard it was just to finish, but in my experience this is a recipe for burn-out, injury and loss of interest in consistent training. To have an enjoyable and challenging experience, we should be honest with ourselves and pick races that reflect where we are at in terms of our training and experience, rather than prestige or bragging rights.

In your mental preparation, it may be helpful to remember that you cannot be both anxious and relaxed at the same time. For smaller races that are hard to get mentally up for, visualize a more important race during the warm up to increase your arousal levels. Conversely, if you are entered in a race that is flooding you with self-doubt and worry, find ways to minimize these negative feelings by breathing through the anxiety and telling yourself positive statements based on previous performances. In doing this, you will soon realize that you can manipulate your level of pre-race arousal thereby facilitating better results. Good luck and I hope all of you have an injury-free winter.

*****

Matthew Johnston is a Performance Enhancement Consultant at Centered Lifestyle Services (www.centeredlifestyle.com). In addition to his training as a Clinical Counselor, he also represented Canada at several international competitions in distance running.

Matt’s personal bests:
1500m:  3:47
Mile:  4:04
3000m:  7:55
5000m:  13: 47
10,000m (road):  29:52

Thanks for reading and RUN STRONG (physically and mentally),

-JK

JKC is different from other gyms/fitness regimes I have tried in the past because of my level of comfort with the facility and other JKC clients and the amount of knowledge both Jon and Thomas demonstrate through personal attention to form, core development and overall strength is outstanding. JKC is by far the best training hands on attention that I’ve experienced period and I have experienced many over a lifetime of activity and playing various sports. The facility has everything you require plus, as you will learn there are many ways to use every piece of equipment and Jon and Thomas are very creative! There are many age groups and professions who attend this gym from elite athlete’s to the rest of us and the casual but focused atmosphere in the gym makes each visit interesting, friendly and challenging at all levels.

The people and the training set JKC apart from other gyms or programs I’ve tried in the past. Truly Jon and Thomas meet you where are and help you get to where you want to be. There are no expectations and never any judgement. You can go there having the worst day and you always leave feeling better. Truly JKC has given me a level of strength and confidence I would not have had otherwise ❤️.

sumo deadlift

I had always wanted to start lifting weights and get stronger, but didn’t know where to start. I was looking not just for a gym, but for training on proper technique to prevent injury and a program designed for my specific goals. I also wanted a fun and supportive atmosphere to keep me coming back. JKC delivered on all of this and more.

Jon and Thomas have a wealth of knowledge that help their clients get the most out of their time in the gym. Programs are continuously modified to keep the workouts challenging. Even through everyone’s program is unique, you always have the coaches and other clients cheering you on and pushing you to achieve new bests.

I was referred to JKC by my sister-in-law and had heard good things about it from many people in the running community. I also saw Jon’s picture on the wall at lululemon years ago! I really like the personalized training and the variety the guys provide. I started for strength training for running. I love cardio and do tons of it but wasn’t motivated to do much strength work on my own. Jon mixes up my strength work week to week so I don’t get bored but also lets me work in a hard circuit for the last 20 minutes of most sessions to get my cardio fix 

My initial goal was to find qualified personal training services in a personalized small gym setting. I have never been a fan of large gyms. JKC offers a friendly, happy gym experience that motivates me to strive for bigger and better results every week. Jon, Thomas and Craig are genuinely talented and always excited to celebrate everyone’s success.

I have a passion for challenging myself to achieve or beat goals. My favourite memories take me back to greater wins than I ever imagined with deadlifts and after a lot of determination and hard work, being able to do multiple chin-ups. Training at JKC has been one of the best experiences of my life – thank you for your commitment to helping me stay fit!!💪🏼😅

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