Monday, January 28, 2013

T-minus 14 days till race day, and counting: Race day visualization and mental preparation

It's starting to sound like I'm whining about the cold, but I gotta say: yesterday was another cold one (and by that I don't mean a brewskie).

Race day visualization
The schedule on Sunday called for 20k. I decided to stay in Halifax for the run but I did drive across the bridge to drive around the course and refresh my memory. Visualization is a great way to mentally prepare yourself for race day.

It's amazing how much stuff comes back to you when you're actually on the course. I remembered what it felt like, last year, when we were all gathered at the start line, the butterflies in my stomach but also the sense of excitement in the air as close to 350 of us gathered in -15 weather on a sunny day to share in the experience of running 21.1kms in the middle of winter for the 2012 Halifax Hypo Half.

As we drove along the course, I remembered the water station, complete with plastic palm trees, volunteers dressed in Mexican sombreros and dancing to tropical music. Then I saw the spot when I tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and did a spectacular fall and roll (for which I received some props from my fellow runners - I told them that I'd learn how to fall properly as a gymnast :P ).

We then passed the spot on a downhill stretch on Cow Bay Road, where I saw the two-hour group passing by us in the other direction and I knew that we were nearing the turnaround. At that point we had started seeing familiar faces heading back and we were cheering each other on. And then there were the two women in the Running Room van who kept driving ahead of us and getting out to do a crazy dance and whooping and cheering for us.

As we drove by the spot where I dropped my sunglasses for the umpteenth time, I realized that driving around the route was also a good reminder to try and figure out how to be more organized this time around, since winter running comes with so much more "stuff" than running in the summer. Last year I kept  dropping my gloves, my iPod and my sunglasses, which meant that I hadn't been able to take in enough fuel and as a result felt sluggish in the last stretch.

Then, coming up the hill in the home stretch, I remembered looking up and seeing a good friend with a cow bell, cheering me to the finish line in the slowest time I'd ever raced a half, but also with the best feeling because I'd just gone out there with no expectations and run the race with friends and enjoyed myself. I pictured running up that hill in just two weeks time, and feeling just as happy at my accomplishment as last year, no matter what my time.

The importance of dressing for the wind chill!

After we drove around the course, I went back to Halifax and geared up for my run. I headed out, but for some reason my legs felt sluggish and my gait was off (it was only later that I realized that it could have been the -22 degree windchill!). I made it about 8kms, but then while doing a mental check of my body I realized my core was getting really cold, as well as my head. I couldn't picture running for another hour and a bit while getting increasingly colder.

After some debate, I decided to run the remaining 12 kms on the treadmill, rather than quit, because I knew that this run was an important mental and physical part of preparing for race day. It was not a fun run, but for some reason the 10-minute intervals just started ticking away and soon enough it was done.

It was an important lesson to always, always remember to keep the windchill in mind when dressing for a winter run! (In fact I had worn almost exactly the same clothes as last year's Hypo Half, where I was dressed warmly for a -15 degree day...Just not warm enough for -22!)

And now the mental training begins

The visualization of the race course was a good first step for the mental training ahead. We're less than two weeks away from race day, which means my mind is starting to play its usual tricks on me: have I trained enough? Am I ready for this? What will the day be like on race day? But driving around the course was an important first step.

The trick for me, these next two weeks, will be to remember all the lessons learned in previous races, while at the same time shutting down the negative talk and tuning into my yoga zen voice. The physical work is done - now it's all about the mental preparation!

What tips do you have for mentally preparing yourself for race day?



  1. Great post! Definitely hear you on the windchill. I've almost started just ignoring the non-wind temperature because it means so little to me now.

    I'm really hoping this week brings the (even just slightly) warmer weather. Good luck in your last couple of weeks!

  2. Enjoyed your post! Visualization is such a key component as it helps us plan ourrain & be confident in our training & skills so we can focus on our race & not others!