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

I had spent a fair bit of time in gyms in my teens and twenties but I turned away from the gym to focus on activities that I enjoyed more. What keeps me at JKC is that I do really enjoy it. I always feel that I’ve accomplished something when I leave at the end of my workout. The environment is really positive and focused on challenging yourself whatever your level of comfort and fitness. I’ve also seen results that I’m really happy with; having someone who really knows what they’re talking about to guide your workouts makes them way more effective and focused than just “going to the gym”.

Shortly after I started at JKC, I sustained a fairly major injury that took me off my feet for several months. When I started to get back to activity, it was very difficult. Jon and Thomas worked hard to tailor my workouts to my goals and what I could do. With their help, I’ve been steadily building back strength and function.

I recently turned 40, and I have been training at JKC since the summer of 2020. My partner Michael had already been training at JKC, so it came highly recommended. We had set up a home gym at the start of the pandemic, but needed to mix it up after the first lockdown. JKC differs from other gyms because of the personalized workouts. Jon, Thomas and Craig are great at challenging me to do more than I would on my own.

I’m 30 — started at JKC Aug 2016. I moved to NL to open lululemon and we chose Jon as one of our store’s ambassadors, did one workout and have raved about it ever since! The JKC team can adapt a workout no matter what the situation — injuries, new goals, you name it! The trust and expertise can’t be matched!

I’m 36 Years Old and started with JKC in 2013. In the past I’d often have motivated spurts of a gym routine but they would usually only last a month or so. It’s pretty easy to press the snooze button at 530 am when there’s no one waiting for you. The fact that the guys are always on time/prepared and motivated for your session adds a level of accountability to your shoulders to “get out of bed” and bring your best effort each time. From the pressure free trainers to the camaraderie that you create over time with the individuals you’re working out with, JKC is able to offer an experience many other gyms cannot.

I’m 40 years old & started training at JKC in 2015. The gym I was working out at closed and my husband recommended JKC. JKC meets you where you are in your fitness journey and tailors the work to help achieve your goals. I’ve trained with Jon & Thomas pre pregnancy, while pregnant and now post baby and they have helped me enormously to stay fit through all life phases.

I joke with the guys often that I’ve seen no change in my fitness level since joining the gym, but the reality is I’m in far better shape at 40 than I ever was at 30 thanks to them.

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