10 mental strategies for your 10K
In any running event, your mind will tell you to slow down or stop running long before your body is at its limit. That’s because your brain wants to preserve as much energy as possible –by telling you you’re tired, it’s preventing you from running yourself to exhaustion.
But the reality is that most of us never come close to our physical limits, especially in a shorter event like a 10K, so use the simple strategies below to overcome that nagging voice of self-doubt and push beyond the barriers your brain imposes.
Before the Vitality London 10,00 has even begun, it pays to maintain some perspective. After months of training, it’s easy to feel like your performance on Event Day is the most important thing in the world – it isn’t! You want to do well, of course, and you may feel a bit disappointed if you don’t run as you had hoped, but it is just an event. Your training won't be for nothing if you don't get the time you had hoped for, and the world will keep turning regardless. Also, remember the fact that you chose to do this - take a few deep breaths and enjoy the occasion.
2. Break it down
If this is your first 10K, even if you’ve covered the distance in training (you should have covered the distance in training!), the thought of running for 6.2 miles may well be intimidating – that’s perfectly normal. To make it seem more achievable, treat it instead as two parkruns, or even three times two miles (with a little bit on the end). You still have to run the full distance, of course, but the act of reaching each milestone – whether it’s the first ‘parkrun’ or the first two-miler – will provide a psychological boost and make the remaining distance seem more manageable.
3. Make it longer
Just as breaking the distance down can make it seem shorter, you might find it helps to do the opposite and convince yourself the event is longer than it actually is. This links back to the self-preservation tactic your brain employs: if it thinks you’re running 10K, it’s likely to induce fatigue as you come close to that limit. Tell yourself that you’re running for longer, however, and you might find you reach the closing kilometres with fuel left to burn.
4. Zone out
Music has been proven to delay tiredness and enhance performance. The science of why is varied, but dissociation – diverting your mind from feelings of fatigue – is one of the main reasons music can help, particularly for beginners who are less used to managing their discomfort. If you’re struggling to keep the pace, an upbeat playlist can also provide the necessary tempo to keep your legs turning over quickly. Some words of warning, though: take your headphones out for any pre-event briefing, and don’t play music so loudly that it inhibits your awareness of your surroundings.
5. Tune in
On the other hand, you might find playing acute attention to your movements and feelings as you run helps you to perform to the best of your ability. Association, as it’s known, can involve monitoring everything from your breathing patterns, to cadence, to how tired your muscles are feeling. It’s a more common technique among experienced runners, but it’s worth practising both association and dissociation in training to find what works for you.
6. Count it out
Paula Radcliffe used this technique to distract herself from the task at hand, and if it’s good enough for one of the greatest female marathon runners of all time, it’s good enough for the rest of us! Her method involved counting to 100 three times, over and over again, because she knew once she’d done that she would have covered one mile. The same distance for you is likely to take a little longer, so practise running one mile at your 10K pace while counting in your head – the figure you get to when the mile is up will give you a rough mile count for Event Day.
7. Imagine a treadmill
When we run, we move over the ground, but wouldn’t it be easier if the ground was moving under us? If you can visualise the ground moving backwards under your feet – as if the world is a giant treadmill – it’s as if the act of running is just keeping you in position. With enough practice, this technique can help to remove some of the effort associated with continual forward movement. And if you’re interested in real treadmill running, check out our feature on the topic!
8. Expect discomfort
No matter your ability, at some point in any event you’re going to need to dig deep. With experience, the sensation of discomfort becomes easier to deal with, chiefly because you know that you can persevere with it and even ‘run through’ it. Until that point, however, try to shift your perception of mid-run discomfort: from something to avoid, to something to embrace. Hurting a little is a sign that you’re performing to the best of your ability, and that should be a source of pride rather than fear.
9. Practise self-praise
In the middle of a run, especially one that’s not going according to plan, it’s easy to become overly self-critical. But negative thoughts are rarely productive; instead of spurring you on, they’re far more likely to make you want to slow down or quit. The alternative, then, is to look on the bright side. Positive mantras are used by many runners as a form of encouragement when the going gets tough: simple phrases like ‘I can do this,’ and ‘I’m running well’ can enforce positive beliefs and help you convince yourself you really can make it to the finish.
10. Latch on
A last-gasp tactic, but an effective one nonetheless. If all else fails during your Vitality London 10,000, ‘latch on’ to a participant in front you by imagining a rope is attached to both your waists. If you visualise them pulling you along, this can be a surprisingly effective fatigue-fighting technique. Only use it in the final few kilometres, however, to avoid trying to keep up with someone travelling at an unsustainable pace(it’s also important to forget about the imaginary rope once you cross the Finish Line!).