Long distance running isn’t easy for anyone. Even the best, most physically talented runners need to practice their mental game to make racing, long runs, and workouts more manageable. The best way to do this is to break your long runs, workouts, and races into shorter, more manageable segments. This strategy will get you through the hard parts of training and racing and prepare you to finish strong.
One of the greatest examples of someone who successfully broke his race into smaller, more manageable parts was Billy Mills in the 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Before the race, Billy knew that to win the race he would have to run a time that would equate to running a personal best in the 5K and then run another personal best in the 5K again. Rather than worrying about all 25 laps at once, he focused on one lap at a time. Mills didn’t complicate his race plan by worrying about the total amount of time he needed to drop for the entire race (which was sizeable) and simply focused on the one or two seconds per lap that he needed to cut.
This approach enabled Mills to fine-tune his mental and physical training in preparation for the event and ultimately led to his unexpected, come-from-behind victory.
The beauty of running is that the strategy Mills employed in Tokyo is not limited to Olympic champions. It can be replicated in your own training and racing. Rather than viewing your upcoming race as an insurmountable challenge to be conquered, you can break it down into smaller, more manageable segments and focus on one segment at a time.
You can do the same thing with workouts and long runs. Rather than focusing on the total length of a run or a total number of minutes or repetitions to be run, focus on the present and do what needs to be done in the moment. Then, when you complete that rep, lap, minute, or mile, move on to the next one.
- You don’t have to be on a track or a marked course to do this. You can simply use landmarks.
- Tell yourself I’m going to focus on this segment from here to that next tree.
- Then when you get to the tree pick another landmark like, for example, a fence post.
- Then focus on the segment from the tree to the fence post.
- Then when you reach the fence post focus on the segment between the fence post and another land mark like a street intersection.
- The segments don’t even have to be the same length.
- They can be as long or as short as you’d like.
The goal is to make them small enough that all you have to do is focus on that segment and then move onto the next one.
This can also be done with a watch either by focusing on a particular period of time – 15 seconds, 1 minute, 90 seconds, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. – or a distance using your GPS watch, for example 0.1 mile, .25 mile, .5 mile, 1 kilometre, 1 mile, etc. The time and the distance are not the important part. What matters is that you remain engaged in what you are doing and you don’t fear the future or doubt the past – focus on the present.
Break your races, long runs, and workouts into smaller parts, and they will become more manageable, satisfying, and engaging.
Jacob Puzey is a national champion and world record holder who coaches runners from all over the world – of all ages and abilities from newbies to national champions – to reach their running potential on all surfaces and distances through www.peakrunperformance.com.