This video is for your next race, when you hit a tough spot. Usually when you start a race, you should feel good, your legs are fresh, your body is tapered, excited to race.
At some point in your race, often 60-80% into your race, you might start hitting tough spots:
- Your muscles are starting to get tired with lactate built up
- Energy levels might go down
- Your body might start to ache
Often when this happens, a voice in your head starts a negative dialog confirming these feelings:
- I’m feeling horrible!
- It’s still so far!
- I can’t do this!
- Why am I even doing this?
You are not alone!
First of, realize you’re not alone, many endurance athletes experience this at some point in their race. In the past 12 years I’ve ran more than 30 marathons and ultra marathons of 50 and 100 miles. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of race struggles. A few examples:
- My GPS watch broke at the beginning of a race
- I’ve tripped when someone tapped my foot from behind
- At my Boston Marathon we had 20 to 30 miles headwind and rain the entire race.
- I’ve experience bad cramping at mile 18 of race
- During my first 50 mile race at Avalon, I took the wrong turn, got lost and had to run 2 miles extra
These are some of the things that can happen to you as well. Let’s take a step back on what you can do when you hit a tough spot in a race.
1. Realize it’s going to be hard!
Before you start any race, 1/2 marathon, marathon, ultra marathon, triathlon, etc realize it is going to be hard. Set those expectations in advance that it is going to be challenging and most probably you’re going to get very uncomfortable for short periods of time. This way you will not be surprised when it happens.
2. Your race might not go according to plan
Most probably your race will not go exactly according to plan. Stay calm, this is a temporary set back, you can handle it, take a deep breath. You are going to have to improvise and fix the problem at hand:
- If you’re low on energy, take some sugars, possibly a gel or drink with caffeine
- If there is a lot of headwind, find a few other runners at same pace, take turns to run in the front. This can safe a lot of energy.
- If you feel like you’re going to cramp, slow down your pace a bit, drink extra water at the next aid station, if you have any salt / electrolyte pills, bite into one
- Look what is within your control to change your situation around
3. Don’t look back, look forward!
Don’t dwell on the things that happened, like the wrong turn you took, the 3 minutes you lost at the bathroom break. Look forward, don’t waste energy on things you can’t change or control.
4. Push through discomfort
Know that things will get better, this is a temporary tough spot. Our body + mind are designed well to protect us. If you push yourself in a race, these protection mechanisms kick in for all athletes at different discomfort levels. Often I think at 30 to 40% of total pain / discomfort level, your body and brain starts giving signals. There are ways to push through discomfort.
I don’t believe in a NO PAIN NO GAIN training mentality, but to perform your best races, there is often a point where you have to find a way to accept discomfort, knowing this is temporary. Obviously don’t go too crazy here, make sure to take signals from your body serious.
5. Repeat a Mantra / positive self talk
Find a mantra or positive self talk to get you through tough spots, repeat this many times to yourself. Something like:
You’re doing good, come on, you got this!
You’ve trained well, now it’s go time!
You’re making good progress, let’s go!
6. Break your race up in small sections
Break your race in small sections, not 10 miles to go, but 10 x 1 mile to go. Set small goals, run strong until the next light pole or until the next aid station.
7. Pick up your pace
My friend Kelley Pucket mentioned a good one on our recent Sub 3 Hour Marathon podcast: “When you’re struggling, pick up your pace your legs want a change of pace.” Ofcourse, that’s easier said than done, but I like this one.
8. Realize you’re not alone
Most others are you are going through the same tough spots too, so being aware of your surroundings and encouraging other runners can help too. Laugh, try to smile, slap a high five to a spectator, thank the volunteers at the aid stations. This alone will positively boost your energy levels.
Which voice will you listen to?
During the tough spots in a race, there will be 2 voices in your head:
- One that says, “you CAN NOT do this“
- And one that says, “you CAN do this“
The voice that will win, is the one you decide to listen to most. The choice is yours.
I want to end with a 2 minute video clip when I hit a tough spot in a self supported 100 mile run. At mile 63 I still had 37 miles to go, so almost 60k to go. This video shows one of my lowest points in running and how I got through it.
So once again, you can see that keeping your mind calm, fixing the problems on hand and keeping a positive mind, can help you overcome tough spots.
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