Running a race of any distance (5K, 10K, half-marathon or full marathon) is a remarkable physical accomplishment. But it is also an incredible mental feat, too.
That’s why we love the new perk offered to participants at the New Jersey Marathon and Half-Marathon, held this past weekend in the Garden State: Visitors to the expo could visit the event’s official Psyching Team—a team of fitness and mental-health professionals designed to, you guessed it, psych runners up for their best possible race.
Douglas Mann, an associate professor of exercise science at Rowan University, organized the New Jersey psyching team after hearing about similar offerings at the Toronto, Hartford and New York City marathons. Mann is a certified athletic trainer, but his research focuses on like stress and sports injuries, and his team included a sports psychologist, as well.
“Some people are just naturally anxious, and a race setting can be a trigger to really ramp up that anxiety,” Mann told SELF after the race on Sunday. “Others are first-time runners who are worried they won’t finish at all. And then there are people who have done tons of races, but they’re trying for a personal best or they’re just looking for any extra advice to give them an edge.”
If your next race is lacking its own psyching team, don’t despair: We asked Mann for some of his favorite pointers on preparing for your healthiest mindset (and PR-setting performance) on race day. Here’s some of the most valuable tips he gave out to runners this past weekend. Combine these with other winning words of advice from our favorite runners, and you’re all but guaranteed an amazing race.
Have a Mile-by-Mile Plan
“Even if runners weren’t worried about finishing [at a certain time], they still told us that it was helpful for them to talk through their mile-by-mile strategy with us. We’ll ask them: Have you thought about when you’re going to get water? When you’re going to take nutrition? What mantra you’re going to say to yourself throughout? If you’re worried about going out too fast, maybe you repeat to yourself ‘Slow, slow, slow’ for the first three miles, then you switch to ‘Nice and steady, Nice and steady’ for miles four through six.”
“Slow, diaphragmatic breathing bring you into a more calm state, whether you’re at the starting line or you’re stressing about your training the night before. To get the full effect, put one hand on your abdomen and, as you breathe in, feel your belly fill up with air. If you do this for a few minutes a day—and at times when you’re particularly stressed, like while you’re waiting for the race start—it can really help you keep anxiety under control.”
“Runners tend to have a really vivid picture of everything that can go wrong during a race, so we like to encourage people to use imagery to visualize everything going well, instead. This is a great thing to do the night before while you’re lying in bed. And don’t just visualize the race itself, but everything beforehand, too: How you’re going to get there, what you’re going to do at the start, everything.”
Practice Power Posing
“When it starts to get tiring out on the course, it’s easy to let your posture slouch and slump—but that will only make you feel worse about yourself. Instead, practice a power pose while you run: head up, chest out, with a focus on where you’re going. It will automatically bring your energy level up and give you that burst you need to get through those last few miles or killer hills.”
Support Each Other
“There will be times during your race where there’s not a lot of spectators or crowd support, which can be really tough. So we tell runners that when they get to those points, to look at someone else they’re running with and throw a compliment their way. Just a simple ‘Hey dude, lookin’ great,’ or a ‘Love your shoes!’ shout out can be a huge pick-me-up, for both the giver and the receiver.”