BY JANET HAMILTON, MA, RCEP, CSCS
I love that commercial where Lolo Jones is looking down the track and she says to herself "Focus Lolo, FOCUS!"
How many times have you been distracted in the middle of a race with a doubt or negative thought? Could you feel yourself losing focus? You can train your mental focus just like you do your aerobic capacity and leg strength -- all you need to do is add that to your workout! You can even practice focusing strategies throughout your day.
For most of us, negative thoughts lead to negative emotions and this usually leads to negative performances and outcomes. Everyone has negative thoughts or doubts. It's what you do with those that can make the difference between success and failure on the day of your event. Think about Olympians - competing on an international stage - if something in their routine is off kilter they can't afford to waste a nanosecond obsessing over that, they have to get right back to the task at hand. Miss that triple flip? Too bad, get back on task because you've got the rest of your routine yet to be executed!
Runners should take a page from that book. You don't get that re-focusing skill overnight, for most of us it takes practice.
Here's a simple drill to do before your next training run:
Before you go out the door take just a moment to be still and visualize in your mind the run you're supposed to execute that day. Is it a trail run? A track workout? A workout with hill repeats? Whatever it is - visualize the course, and visualize yourself executing the run to perfection - running smoothly and on-pace, feeling strong and confident and in control. Put as many sensory images as you can into that visualization - the scenery along your route, the smell of the flowers or fresh cut grass, the sound of the wind in the trees or the traffic nearby or whatever you're likely to encounter on the course you're set to run. The more detailed you can make your visualization the better. Breathe deep, lock that image in your head, and then go out the door and execute the workout. When you get distracted during the workout or have a doubt or negative thought, quickly re-frame it to something positive and get your focus back on track. For example, running that hill you feel fatigue and the thought flashes in your head "wow, this feels really hard today". That reality can't be denied... but it can be framed a couple of ways. One - "wow, this is really hard today, I'll really struggle on those hills in the race coming up" (negative). or Two - "wow, this is really hard today, I know if I can conquer these hills, the ones on race-day will seem tame by comparison. Bring it on!" (positive). In other words - try to re-frame your negative thoughts and emotions quickly into something positive and get your head back in focus and on the task at hand (executing your performance for that day).
By practicing this act of visualizing before your workout, re-framing negative thoughts into positive ones, and refocusing when you lose focus during a workout, you may find that on race day that you're able to keep your head in the game a little better.
ON RACE DAY – Focus on the PERFORMANCE, the outcome (race finish) will be the best it can be if you do that!
To your success on race day! - Coach Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS