Mental Preparation For OktobeRun – Part 3

Welcome to final installment of Gwyn’s mental preparation tips for the OktobeRun (sign up here).

In part one of the series, we talked about general physical preparation and deciding what kind of experience you want to have. In part two, we talked about developing your product and process oriented goals.
Now for the fun stuff, Mental Preparation:

  • Negative Thought Replacement
  • Positive visualization
  • Diaphragm breathing

Negative Thought Replacement is the simplest, and unfortunately, most seldom used of the mental techniques. Everyone has an internal monologue, and unfortunately, it’s often our worst critic. “I’ll never be able to do this,” “What was I thinking, I don’t belong here,” “Everyone else is fitter/younger/thinner than I am,” etc. are examples of the negative and self-defeating thoughts that can plague us.

Unfortunately, the body follows the mind. The great saying, “The body never goes where the mind hasn’t already been a hundred times,” is especially true of athletics. If you believe you can’t do it, then you won’t be able to. Luckily, we can reprogram our minds and free our bodies to follow. This starts with our internal monologue.

Whenever, and I mean whenever, you find yourself thinking a negative thought, replace it immediately with a positive one that you have already rehearsed. Ideally the replacement is true, but it could also be one that you wish to be true. For example, replace “I’ll never be able to run the whole way” with “I’ve been training hard, I’m ready for this,” or “What if I’m the slowest person there?” with “I’m going to do my best and enjoy the experience,” or “I don’t like pressure” with “I rise to meet a challenge.” If you feel stupid saying something you don’t quite yet believe, say it anyway. Then say something else positive that you do believe (“I’m getting stronger every day”). In time, the positive self-talk will become your habit; and your body will follow.

Another tool to prevent nerves is visualization. When you mentally “rehearse” an activity, in a deeply focused and relaxed state, you actually fire the same neurons and muscle fibers that you use when you physically do the activity. You practice in a completely safe environment – your mind – and your body stores this information for the future.

The ideal time for visualization is before your train. It takes four minutes total – so make an effort to get to your workout five minutes early, find a quiet spot, and program yourself for maximizing both your physical and mental workout. If you can’t do it before working out, a great time for visualization is before you go to sleep, or at least in a situation where you can sit or lie down and you won’t be interrupted.

Start with a deep centering diaphragm breath: inhale for a slow count of 10, hold for a slow count of 5, and exhale for a slow count of…I’m getting dizzy…5-10. Your body is now relaxed, centered and receptive. You will visualize three “highlight reels,” of about 60 seconds each.

  1. The first should be a situation where everything just clicked for you. An experienced competitor would use their best race. If you’ve never raced, use anything when you felt invincible, in the “zone,” completely in control, effortless and joyful. The sales meeting when you closed a huge deal, a musical performance or public speaking engagement that went perfectly, the social situation when you were the life of the party…pick a time when you were in your element, and you could do no wrong.
  2. The second is an imaginary workout or training session. Imagine your gym or track in great detail. What does it look like? What do you hear and smell? Make it as vivid as you can. Imagine yourself completing a workout with tremendous energy and ease. Your body feels like a perfectly tuned machine. You are having so much fun, you feel like you could go forever.
  3. The third is your upcoming race. Like your workout highlight reel, imagine what it will look, sound and feel like. Who will be there? What is the weather like? Make it as vivid as you can. Visualize your race exactly as you would want it: you are confident, competent and joyful. Running is practically effortless, the road disappearing behind you as your feet barely touch it. You have never felt better. You actually wish the race would go on forever. The finish line comes all too soon. You feel great and can’t wait to enter another race.
  4. As the last step, it is very important to bring yourself down with a deep centering breath after your third highlight reel. Inhale for 10, hold for 5, exhale for 5-10.

Do you feel silly yet? We are taught at an early age to be humble, not to toot our own horn, and that pride goeth before the fall. Luckily, this is all in the privacy of your own mind, so don’t worry, you can be the star of your own show. No one is going to laugh at you.

This sequence puts you in the Ideal Performance State (IPS) for competition (reel #1), then rehearses performing a workout and the race in this state (reels #2 & 3), then returns you to the ideal state (most people get too “jacked up” while visualizing competition). You are literally programming yourself for success. Once a day of this visualization work is enough. Make it as vibrant, realistic and vivid as you can. Enjoy it.

If you find yourself getting nervous on the morning of the race, diaphragm breathing can be a huge help. If you practice it before and after your positive visualization, or before challenging parts of your workout, it will be easy to access it even when you are stressed. It will help you regain your IPS: completely alert, aware, relaxed and ready for action.

Congratulations for stretching yourself in a new direction, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually. You’ve made a great commitment to your own health and personal growth. And when you’re ready to go to the next level of Performance Psychology, there’s plenty more where this came from!

Gwyn Gordon has coached equestrians for 20 years, including private clients and the Stanford Equestrian Team. In her nearly 40 years of competing, she has had firsthand experience with every possible sports psychology blunder. As a coach, one of her greatest pleasures is helping others learn to thrive and excel under the pressure of competition.