In part one of our series on Mental Skills for Ultra Marathoners [to read Part 1 on Mental Skills for Ultra Runners, click HERE], we discussed the importance and gave techniques of how to deal with things that are out of your control. Whether it is the weather, how your body is reacting to stress, etc. Now as we move on to Part II, we would like to examine things that you CAN control. Most of these will take place in your preparation pre-race, but can be implemented in-race.
Before we get into this, one of the most important things to remember as you read is that you can never be too prepared. High achieving athletes are tough not just because of how well they can focus, but how well prepared that they are. The more prepared you are, the less your anxiety will become on race day. So let’s get into the next 5 skills to help build your mental toughness for your next [or first] ultra race.
If you are a frequent reader of Achievement Consulting’s articles [and if you aren’t – then we are glad you are here!], you know that we have written extensively about the importance of self-awareness [to read more about the importance of being self-aware, click HERE]. And this is not the type awareness we spoke of yesterday that involves knowing how you are reacting to an environment both physically and emotionally, however an awareness of who you are and what you stand for.
The reason that this is important is because the more you truly understand who you are, the more you will know whether you should even attempt one of these events or if you have done one before, how hard much more you can challenge yourself than you have in your past competitions. Many people want to do these extra-long events because they are risk-takers and adventure seekers, however they may not have the toughness to survive 8 hours alone in the desert at 100 degrees plus heat. Before you even begin your journey, it’s important that you have an understanding of who you are and what you stand for. If you are clear on these things and honest with yourself, then not only will you know if it is right to take on the challenge in front of you, but during the race, by staying true to those values will make the attempt more rewarding and easier to succeed in.
If you are going to set goals for your Ultra, there are two rules of thumb that you should be following – set goals that are achievable [which is obvious], and do something that you normally wouldn’t do, which is set a ‘HOW’ for each goal. The goal is important of course, but always remember that a goal is just an outcome. It is an outcome of all the work that you will put in before the race and the execution of your plan during the race.
As far as setting the goal itself, don’t just have all of your goals be time based. One of the purposes of a goal is to create positive feedback and have small victories along the way. And if you are doing an ultra-marathon, then you are going to need to these small wins as the race goes along to stay motivated. You can have goals based on effort, execution of technique, and so on. Don’t just make your goals about hitting certain times, but give yourself a chance to have other goals along the course and reward yourself for getting to them.
As for the how’s, you need to be as specific as you can when setting these. If one of your goals is to make sure you stay hydrated during the race, then set a ‘how’ for how much you will consume throughout the race. This is just an example, but as I hope you can see, these ‘how’s’ not only will help you achieve your goals, but more importantly will act as accountability systems that you can hold before, during, and after the race.
Very few people realize where confidence really comes from, which is how you communicate to yourself. Science has shown that positive self-talk and positive body language actually can increase the level of endorphin's and testosterone in someone before and during competition. Especially when you are ultra running, the more positive you communicate with yourself, the better off you are going to be. Nothing positive, in life and in racing, comes from beating yourself up and saying to yourself that you are worthless. If you think back upon times where you did just that, I can guarantee you that those are times that you want to forget. However, when you are telling yourself positive affirmations and standing tall with good posture, even if you are not doing great, just staying positive will be an enormous benefit.
If there is anything that can help your pre-race anxiety, it is visualization. Many people use visualization to some extent, however it is those who understand how to implement it during competition who really benefit. Visualize the race playing out many different ways. Visualize running in bad conditions, good conditions, and the emotions reactions that take place during your visualization training. Visualize having an amazing race but also having a race that unexpectedly goes south, and then game plan how you will recover.
Most importantly, by using the positive communication with yourself that we just spoke about as the race goes on, you can use these visualization training's as a reminder that you have already prepared for moments like the one you are in. What did you visualize yourself doing when it started to rain unexpectedly? When you got to the rest station? When you are at mile 30 and feel like you are ready to drop out, how did you visualize yourself getting through it? This is not just psychology mumbo-jumbo, this is a proven strategy that if you implement correctly, will give you a big leg-up come race day.
Tough runners, and for that matter anyone in any sport or business, are organized. This goes back to what we spoke about earlier on being prepared. Being organized before the race goes off, and in your training in the weeks leading up to the race is critical if you are going to be successful. Being organized is not just saying, ‘ok, in 3 months I’m gonna run a 50-mile race, I should start training.’ Being organized means that once you have your race circled on the calendar, you plan your training out by working backwards from race day and creating a detailed plan, creating test efforts, and setting smaller goals along the way.
As far as race day is concerned, it is not about knowing what you are just going to do in the race, but the week before, making sure that you have all the food, gear, and fluids ready for when you walk out of your house and head to the course. No one ever gets a medal for just being prepared, however people who earn medals are more than likely the most prepared.
We hope that these tips will help you lead to the best race you have ever had, or lead to you making your first ultra something that you are proud of and lead you to do another. Many thanks to Alex McDaniel for all of his help in co-authoring this series. I hope that you will sign up for our newsletters HERE, follow us on Twitter @achieveinsports, and like us on Facebook at Facebook.com/achieveinsports. If you have any questions or have anything else you want us to write about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org