With three of the biggest, most important races in Austin coming up— the Rogue 30-K (January 11), the 3M Half Marathon on January 25 and the Austin Marathon (and Half) on February 15th—one of the most important factors which will determine how well you run in these great races is your ability to concentrate.
Without a doubt, concentrating in a race as long and difficult as a half marathon or a marathon is much different than in other sports. In racing, the ability to concentrate doesn’t mean screwing your face up with a serious look and focusing all your attention on your form. You simply can not concentrate intensely for two or three hours or longer. Not even elite runners can.
But concentration in running is still important, yet surprisingly simple. It means paying particular attention to the things that are happening to you and monitoring how you feel at precisely the right time.
Clearly, being in great shape for a race as long as 13 or 26 miles is key, but so is having strong mental skills. In the heat of a race, many things compete for your attention that can lead to distractions from your primary goal. With strong concentration skills, you can better focus your attention on your race which will go a long way to determining how you perform.
During your workouts, the primary focus is normally on building running strength and speed. But as Rogue, 3M and Austin approach, a solid mental training plan should also be included. And that follows a similar pattern of general to specific, from long endurance runs to mentally peaking for the race. Early mental practice focuses on the ability to staying mentally focused while doing long runs or speed work. Many race specific skills, such as self-talk control, focus under pressure and mental imagery, should be practiced and honed during your base training.
As you practice and build your concentration skills, you can begin to control what thoughts are present in your mind and focus your attention where it needs to be. Learning to focus your mind requires practice and time. Developing the power to focus full attention on one task can be done with simple exercises performed daily such as:
Focus on a single task. While running, count your pulse for 60 seconds without thinking about anything else. If other thoughts wander into your mind, start from scratch. The goal is to have 60 continuous seconds with your complete attention focused on counting your pulse. This exercise builds the skills of attention,focusing, distraction filtering, thought control and self-talk control.
Maintain a clear mind. Just before you run, start the timer on your watch, close your eyes and clear your mind of any and all thoughts. As you run, maintain this clear mind with no thoughts for as long as you can. Aim to lengthen this time with practice.
Control distracting thoughts. Fill your mind with various thoughts about training, racing, work, family, etc., until your head is buzzing with them. Then, choose a single thought to keep in your mind and banish all the other thoughts. Continue to think only about this single thought for one minute.
Observe a single function Clear your mind of all thoughts. Use all of your senses to observe your breath. Listen, feel and hear the air moving in and out of your lungs. Recognize and quiet any distractions.
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