Arbitrary Goals & Racing Psychology

Two random blurbs before I head to bed:

First, it occurred to me today how random running goals can be. Race results mean something very specific to runners, but to non-runners, they’re probably like, “Uh, sounds good, I guess??” So, the average Joe would probably be confused as to why I’m getting my shorts in a wad over a sub-2 half marathon. The next question he’d ask is “Why 2 hours?” It seemed a bit arbitrary even to me, after a little bit of thinking. (Though, I do think that 2 is a nice, round number.)

So, I’ve decided: TO HELL WITH IT. What I want to do on Sunday is to run the best race that I can muster on that day, whatever that means. None of this “A, B, C Goal” stuff. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff, which means no freaking out at small deviations from a planned pace. I’ve got to save my energy for actual running, you know. This doesn’t mean I’m not planning on running smart — I’m not going all out in the beginning and then blow up. But I won’t hold back too much either for the sake of keeping to a plan, if that’s how I’m feeling on Sunday. We shall see!

Second, I was coming up with a list of “psychological tips” for Alejandro, since we didn’t get to run together on Sunday. The list was so substantial that I decided to copy and paste it here, with a little bit of editing:

– Visualize success. Picture yourself crossing the finish line running strong.
– Have a back-up plan in case things don’t go well. For example, if you end up having pain or cramps, make a deal with yourself to run for 1 minute and walk for 30 seconds until the pain subsides.
– Related – be positive! If you start encountering difficulties, don’t spend too much time or energy focusing on the negative. It will get you nowhere, and will also deplete you of mental and physical energy.
– Prepare to suffer. This might sound contradictory to the positive thinking, but it’s also good to remember that it’s a long race and there will be times when it’s not pleasant. Focus on how awesome it will be to get to the finish line and that the pain your feeling is only temporary.
– Break the race down into smaller segments if that will help you. For me, it always seems easier to think of half marathons as 2 x 6.5 mile races.
– Don’t start thinking about mileage until the last 2-3 miles because it can be overwhelming to think about how much distance you still have to cover. In the last couple of miles, you can start thinking “I’ve run 2 miles lots of times. Piece of cake.” For me, when I get to the last mile, I always think, “Just 5 more minutes. I can definitely run 5 minutes.” Even if it’s actually more than 5 minutes… somehow it seems doable and concrete.
– Don’t forget your mantras! I like “Forward motion”, “Mind over matter”, and “I can do this!”

Do you have a favorite running mantra or way to prepare psychologically for race day?


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Goals, random
13 comments on “Arbitrary Goals & Racing Psychology
  1. Tennille says:

    Good Luck on Saturday!!! You will have a great day!

  2. Tennille says:

    Sunday. Make that Sunday. Have a great run on Sunday. (And a great time at the expo on Saturday).

  3. I’m horrible at the mental side of running.. I can so easily put myself into the “I don’t care” category if it gets too tough–lazy!! Your tips are great for getting motivated mentally. Hope you have a GREAT race!!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Jan! I know what you mean about getting lazy when things get tough — it’s too easy. But I usually end up feeling lousy at the end if I know I didn’t give the race my all — especially something that I’ve been training hard for.

  4. Angela says:

    Yes, this is all so true! Racing a half, I can never, ever, ever let myself think about how many miles are left, because then my body won’t believe that I can keep up the pace that my brain knows is my race pace. I’m all about “just run the next mile at x:xx pace.”

    • Jen says:

      One mile at a time is definitely a great strategy — it’s how I got through the last half of CIM! (and I wasn’t even running all that fast!)

  5. Dominick S. says:

    I like all the mantra’s. Make sure to tell Alejandro not to start to fast, focus on his body and his pace so he still has some in the tank for the last mile. Race day is all between the ears, your body can handle the goals you trained for, it is just a matter of believing it. On that note, the goals should be realistic…in your case, 2 hours is definitely realistic, I expect to see a sub-2 but if you don’t make it, I have no doubt that you gave it your all. For Alejandro, start smart, stay within your ability and shoot for a negative split!

    Good luck this weekend. It is GO TIME!

  6. Amy says:

    Running times are SO meaningless to people who don’t run! I think you have some great mental exercises going on, and I think they cover all of the ones I use. Don’t forget to use them on Sunday. YOU CAN DO IT! Enjoy the race and GOOD LUCK!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Amy!! It was good to remind myself of these things before the race instead of during or after (which is what usually happens).

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4/28/19: London Marathon

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