“I was on pace until the last 2.5 miles which is when I slowed down, but I don't think it was because my legs were tired. I guess I just seemed to lose focus or something?”
One of the challenges of racing (or hard workouts) is maintaining focus especially when the going gets tough. In fact, mental energy can drain just like physical energy.
It can be subtle, too, because you may not be used to monitoring your mental energy as much as you're used to sensing the fatigue in your legs, for example.
I've got 2 quick tips to help you hone your focus in the latter stages of the race.
Don't Waste Energy In The Early Miles
Seems like something I've been saying a lot lately, but it applies here for sure: RELAX. As they say, a race isn't won in the first mile, but it sure can be lost.
When the gun goes off, your adrenaline is flowing and race pace feels easy. Probably too easy. You're cruising along, blissfully unaware that you're 10 sec/mile faster than you've trained to run. Or you're thinking, “Sweet, I'm in incredible shape! This feels easy and I'm going faster than I thought!”
So easy to fall into this trap. Been there many times!
Here's the thing. You need to EXPECT it to feel easy. If you're perceiving a large degree of effort in mile 1 of a 10 mile race, it ain't gonna be a good day.
My suggestion is to focus on relaxing as much as possible. Attempt to use as little energy as possible to cover the distance at the pace you've trained to run. (The idea of race day heroics are largely unfounded ;-))
Start by focusing on your breathing – be sure you're exhaling properly and you're quiet. Save the panting for later.
Check in with your shoulders – are they hiked up to your ears? Soften them and let 'em drop. How about hand tension? Loosely curled fingers is the way to go.
Bottom line: don't ruin your result in the first third of the race. Relax and chill. Bide your time so you can crank it later.
Lock Onto The Runner In Front Of You
As you get into the critical zone of the race (the part from 60 – 90% of the distance), it's time to expect to hurt. THIS is where personal bests happen or not. You need to maintain pace despite an increase in perceived effort. So how do you do that when all of the internal feedback you're getting says "SLOW DOWN"?
The thing that's worked for me best over the years has been to pick someone who seems to be maintaining the pace and lock onto them. Literally just stare at their back!
Think of nothing else other than reeling them in and letting them pull you along.
Do not let your gaze drift from the back of their singlet.
Periodically check your ability to relax, but quickly return your focus to the runner in front of you. By focusing on the runner in front of you, you've now got an objective: do not drop the ball. The ball, of course, is the runner in front of you.
If you're really struggling, don't even think of looking away. It think, more often than not, if you latch onto someone, they will help you through the critical zone and you'll come out ready to sprint for the finish.
Give it a shot during your next race and be sure to thank them after you finish!
Has that worked for you in the past? Got another trick that gets you through the toughest parts of a race? Share below please!