Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

Wise Running: What to Think During a Race

Much has been said about training for a race.  Much has been said about how to plan the paces you should run during each part of a race.  Few people, however, have discussed what you should think during a race.  What little I have found on the topic has to do with either repeating positive mantras or the ways to remind yourself of your pacing plan.park

I want to focus on the thinking.  Thinking will happen whether we choose it or not.  If you do not purposefully think, your mind will choose what to think on its own.  If you naturally have good thinking habits during races with lots of positive, helpful thoughts occurring, then read no further.  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.  If you find yourself in negative thought patterns while racing, however, it is time to rethink your thinking.


I do plan my races in stages or pace zones.  In my last 5K, I planned the first mile, the second mile, and the third mile separately.  I had intended paces AND intended thoughts.  In the first mile, it was slightly downhill so I planned to run just a little faster than my PR pace.  My intended thought was to be, “Just a little bit is good, not too fast.”  It is easy to go out too fast at the beginning of the race.  This thought was to keep from overdoing it.   Then the middle mile is a little more hilly.  My intended pace was at PR pace or just a few seconds slower.  My intended thought was, “Steady as she goes.”  That is because the goal was just to maintain during this tough part of the course.  Overdoing it would send me in to a lactate tailspin from which I could not recover.  Finally, the last 1.1 miles were a little easier than the middle mile.  The mantra here was, “Pick people and pass.”  Instead of picking a specific pace, I planned to run fast enough as a side-effect of gradually passing more and more people.

Calming, Coaching

If things begin to happen during a race that are not as planned, my reaction sometimes is to panic.  As soon as you are stuck in panic mode, your race will get worse.  Hence, I have learned to identify when it is happening and coach myself through it.  Goal number one is to calm down.  Getting upset leads to worse racing.  Hence, you work against yourself if you stay there.  With this in mind, I (figuratively) take a deep breathe and begin to re-evaluate.  I calmly coast as I decide what changes to make.  If I do this for just a few seconds, I can usually recover from the spiraling of negative thoughts and center myself.  When this happens, I take a few seconds to revise my plan and then hit it hard.  To summarize: Let go of the negative and then “Let’s go!!”

Awareness & Appreciation of  Others

If the race I am running is not one of my “goal races” for the year, I may take a few seconds now and then to identify who is around me and yell out an encouraging word.  It is not all about me, after all.  It is about my teammates, my friends, and my soon-to-be-friends.  Not only does it help them, but it lifts your own spirits as well.  You enjoy the race more and, sometimes, you might even do better because of this.

If I have the awareness and energy, I also like to acknowledge and thank the volunteers and fans along the course.  They are out there too.  They are showing dedication.  Give something back.  If you don’t have energy or breathe to wave and say thank you, at least make eye contact and wave.  It will cheer them up and make it more likely that they will be there to support their club/city/friends at the next big event.

Pushing to the Edge Without Falling Off

Much more has been said about thinking during a marathon than any other racing distance.  You absolutely must remember to stick to your hydration and nutrition strategies in order to meet your goals and enjoy the run.  Nearly everyone reaches a point of negative thoughts during a marathon.  It may be because of the conditions or because of your conditioning.

I tend to think of the marathon in two parts: the first 16 miles and the last 10.2 miles.  This is relevant for me because of the GI issues I have.  My gluten-insensitivity issues have made it difficult for me to process enough carbohydrates during miles 1 through 16, making the last 10.2 miles a real struggle.  Yes, I use the calming, coaching approach, but it is different than any other race.  Instead of running on positive or negative emotions, I am in analysis mode.  How do I feel?  What is the fastest I can possibly run right now without pushing my body over the edge?  How will that change as I run up the hill in front of me.  I have learned to change my expectations based on the way my body is responding and the conditions of the race course.  This helps me maintain a positive spirit because I am certain that I am pushing as hard as I can at any point.  This strategy worked almost perfectly on my last marathon as I had my first cramp just 200 feet before the finish line.   Regardless of the pain from those cramps, I had an immense sense of satisfaction from knowing that I had literally given everything I had without going so hard that I couldn’t make it.  Positive. That is enjoying the run!

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

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