A 10k can be a really tough distance to crack. If you're a marathon runner, it can seem fast and furious, whereas if you're more of a 5k runner then it can seem a long way. What's more, when the going gets tough, a little voice in your head is constantly willing you to stop and says: ‘I can't do this anymore’. The trouble is, the more you try and block out that little voice, the louder it seems to get! Whether you’re an elite athlete or you just run for fun, we have all had those inner battles with that little voice and more often than not, it’s your biggest opponent.
Break it down
Tackling the 10k distance as a whole can be mentally daunting so try breaking down the distance into manageable chunks. You’ll find it can be a useful psychological strategy. The beauty of this strategy is that you only allow yourself to think about one segment of the race at a time. This helps to keep your mind in the present rather than worrying about what is to come. You may prefer to break the race down into distances that you are familiar with in training, for instance, 6 x 1 miles (6 x 1.6km). If you do it like that, during the latter stages of the race you can tell yourself that it's ‘Just one more rep!’
Find a distraction
During the second half of the race is when the fatigue starts to kick in and that is when that little voice in your head will try to flood your mind with negative thoughts. The solution is to try and find a distraction to occupy your mind and keep that irrational voice at bay. This could be focusing on an aspect of your technique, your breathing rate or even singing a song or reciting a poem (in your mind, not aloud). Do whatever works best for you, but think about doing something, anything, to take your mind off what you’re actually doing and how much it hurts.
Hide your watch
It's all too easy to become fixated on the clock and your splits during a 10k race, yet more often than not this can add a pressure that can prove to be crippling. Try racing naked, (by which we mean without a watch or GPS rather than literally!). The secret to success here is to trust your internal sense of effort rather than your watch. Remember you have run at this pace so many times in training your body should instinctively know how fast to run. Believe in it and yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Remember that when your run gets tough, you're not alone. Everybody, from beginner to elite will start to hurt during a race. We are all human and it's perfectly normal when you are running hard to experience a certain level of discomfort. It’s not supposed to be easy and it isn’t. So take some comfort from the fact that all of the runners around you are hurting too.
Positive self-talk or affirmations can be a powerful psychological tool in helping to banish those negative thoughts. This involves replacing any negative statements with positive ones. For example, ‘I can do this.’ You can also develop a positive mantra that you repeat to yourself throughout the race. It could be something like 'relax' or 'strong'. Some runners like to write a positive statement on the inside of the wrist so that they can look at it during the race and remind themselves of what they are trying to achieve. Find what works for you and go with it.
So, there are some strategies to help you combat those negative thoughts and to master the mental battle of a 10k. Remember a positive mind-set equals a positive performance.
Picture credit: Hanna Grzesik / Shutterstock.com