Mental preparation for your personal best

Mental preparation for your personal best – Brief Article

Jack Lesyk

To run your best, the most important preparation for top performance occurs during the many months prior to a race. During the final week there is usually little that you can do to enhance your physical performance. Yet there are many things that can detract from performing your very best. Many of these factors are mental.

The following guidelines are practical tips to help you prepare mentally for your highest level of performance. These techniques are recommended for the final week before a race, but can also help you to get the most out of your training from day one.

Familiarity. You’ll perform best if your surroundings feel familiar to you. Follow your usual schedule of getting up and going to bed, meal times, types of food, even TV programs or reading the newspaper. If you travel to a race, do everything possible to generate this feeling of familiarity. Try to maintain your daily routine while you travel. Even bring along your favorite music or books to help you feel comfortable.

Be sure to develop this feeling of familiarity with respect to the race course. Visit it in advance or view pictures. Talk with others who have competed there. If possible, jog, run, walk or drive the course. When the actual event begins, you’ll know what’s ahead of you. If many elements are, in fact, different from what you’re accustomed to, focus your attention selectively on those aspects that seem familiar, for example, other runners, familiar logos, running shoes, your body’s sensations as you warm up and stretch. As you do this, your attention will automatically drift away from that which seems unfamiliar and disconcerting. Wear familiar warm-up and racing clothes and go through a familiar warm-up routine prior to your event.

Positive Affirmations. Monitor your internal “self talk” and develop honest, positive statements that you can think or say to yourself to reinforce your confidence. These are not global grandiose statements like, “I’m the greatest” or “I know I’m going to win.” Good positive affirmations are irrefutably true. Effective affirmations include “I’m thoroughly prepared for today’s race;” “All I need for a good performance is inside of me–I put it there through many hours of training and competition;” “I’ve competed very well before in situations like this;” and “I am strong and fast.”

Relaxation. Practice relaxing your mind and body during the days prior to the competition. Close your eyes and imagine the most relaxing place that you’ve ever been. Become aware of how your breathing slows down and how your muscles begin to feel heavy and limp. Do this many times each day during the week before the major event.

During the days prior to your race, place yourself in a mellow mood by doing things that are relaxing, being in pleasant surroundings and spending time with people who help you to relax. As you do this, think about all of the energy that you’re saving and how it will be released at the beginning of your race.

Mental Rehearsal. Close your eyes and imagine your best previous performance. Relive it in your imagination as vividly as possible. Try to recreate all of the sensory images, the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells. Imagine how you felt inside just prior to the start. Imagine how you felt while you were running and as you finished. Do this over and over again.

Now, change the script, and imagine your upcoming race. Imagine the setting and the moments prior to the start. Use all of the information you have available to enrich your imagery–the more details, the better. Be realistic and visualize a performance just a bit better. Do this over and over again. Imagine different scenarios and strategies for dealing effectively with any possible changes in the competitive situation.

Rather than being intimidated by other competitors, develop effective mental strategies focusing their presence in a positive way. Imagine how other runners provide you with the necessary challenge that you need in order to perform at your highest level. Imagine yourself at the start of your race absorbing energy from them into yourself.

(AR&FA Clinic Advisor Jack Lesyk, Ph.D., is a clinical and sports psychologist and the Director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology in Beachwood, Ohio. He may be contacted directly via e-mail at or through AR&FA’s Clinic.)

RELATED ARTICLE: Remember that you engage in your sport because it enhances your life. You owe it to yourself and to those who care about you to do your best. You cannot do more. Win or lose you’re still the same person and life goes on. It is your chosen commitment and struggle toward excellence that makes you a better person, not your win-loss record. Enjoy yourself.

COPYRIGHT 1999 American Running & Fitness Association

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