by: Matt Fitzgerald
In less than three weeks I will run 50 miles. But I won’t just be running during the several hours it takes me to get from Folsom to Auburn, California, as a participant in the American River 50 Mile. I’ll also be thinking.
As the author of How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, I believe strongly that what I think about during races has a significant impact—for better or worse—on how I perform. So when I prepare to race I do more than train hard and create nutrition and pacing plans. I also think about what I’m going to think about between the start and finish lines.
So what will I think about in my first ultramarathon?
In the latter miles of some of my longer training runs, when I’ve started to feel sore and heavy-legged, I’ve found myself meditating on the following refrain: Just grind. The phrase came to me spontaneously, as the most helpful running thoughts often do, and it reminds me that it doesn’t matter if I feel sore and heavy-legged. I can keep running strong despite these uncomfortable sensations. I will definitely use the mantra at AR50.
Another element of my psychological race plan is preparedness for the unexpected. I know there will be some unpleasant surprises.
The freshness and bounce might disappear from my legs much earlier than I would prefer, or the weather might be unseasonably warm, or my stomach might begin to reject what I’m feeding it before I’ve even reached the halfway mark.
When anything like this happens, I will take comfort in knowing that I never expected everything to go my way. This will help me relax and stay patient.
Also, I plan to listen to music during at least part of the race. I consider this to be a psychological tactic because listening to the right kind of music enhances running performance by acting on the brain—specifically, by reducing perceived effort.
As a passionate music lover, I find that this effect is particularly strong in me. I know there are some purists out there who disdain the wearing of earbuds during races, but what can I say? It’s legal in many events (including AR50—I think) and I’m a competitor.
My attitude is, why leave a legal 1 percent performance boost on the table? Having said this, though, I will confess to being somewhat embarrassed by the inordinate amount of time I’ve devoted to creating the perfect playlist.
What, you ask, is my idea of the “perfect” running song? Check out “Cocaine Blues” by Escort!
Matt Fitzgerald is an author and runner who is chronicling his journey to become an ultra runner in 2016.