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Harness Your Emotions

25-Mar-15

Last updated: 21-Aug-18

By Andy Mouncey

Harnessing Your Emotions: Why bother?

In my experience as a competitor and coach, the greater the distance of the event, the greater the role of your mental skills and your ability to manage your emotions.

In the world of ultra-distance, being in the right physical shape only gets you to the start line.

Getting to the finish line - having the race you want – requires you to:

Protect Your Contact Points
In running, this means keeping your feet intact and looking after chafing areas such as the groin and rucksack  / bumbag straps.

Have Reserves
You can get away with being as fit as a butcher’s dog and unhealthy for the short stuff. For the long stuff, you will need reserves to draw on during and after the race. The challenge is to arrive at the start line Healthy First, Fit Second.

Use Your Head
Making proactive and reactive choices which are consistent with your goals – and if it’s a team event the goals of the people around you – and with keeping you safe (self-reliance). So yes, this does assume you have some goals in the first place!

Manage Your Energy Levels
Paying attention to the Food - Mood link and to your pace.

Harness Your Emotions
All things being equal and over the long term, Performance (racing) is emotional, and the difference on any given day will be how you feel.

It’s Rarely Just The Distance

So even in the really big stuff, I put to you that it’s rarely the distance on its own that will kill you. Assuming you can stay on the course (!) it’s any one or any combination of these:

  • The state of your contact points
  • How healthy you are
  • How smart you are at heading off and reacting to problems
  • Your fuelling discipline
  • Your pace
  • Your ability to manage how you feel

Let’s now have a look at the last one.

Performance Is Emotional

Training is physical. Racing – performing is emotional: it’s about how you feel, or more specifically how you choose to feel.

So if that’s the case (and I believe it is) then the only question which is worth an answer is this:
If I’ve done the prep, how then do I choose and plan to feel like I / we need to feel in order to do what is I  / we have to do?

Answer 1 Really Know WHAT You Are Doing

Set Goals To Really Grab You
There’s a whole bunch of neurological and physiological reasons why the discipline of goal-setting works, and in simple terms it’s this:

We generally get what we focus on.

So choose to focus on what you want – as opposed to what you don’t want!

Goals Give Choices Meaning
Choices about What Do I Do Now? are meaningless without an objective to give context. In order to make choices which take you towards your goal, guess what? You need a goal or two in the first place…

Make It Matter
Your goals for the big stuff should grab you and shake you with excitement and nerves in equal measure – they should really matter, really mean something to you – they should come from the heart. Only then is it time to get SMART with them.

Make Them Balance
In my experience, of those people who set goals – and, by the way, very few actually do and even fewer will admit to it – most will set goals about what they want to achieve:

  • Specific Outcomes E.g. Top 10, 4 hours.

Few will set goals relating to how they want to go about that:

  • The Quality Of The Experience E.g. With appreciation for my surroundings, to be patient and trust my choices.

Even fewer will set goals that do both:

  • This is what I want and this is how I want to do that E.g I want run tall, feel in control throughout, and to finish in the top half of the field.

Use The Cues
Think of your how goals as your personal Code Of Conduct for the race. They give you key words and phrases to focus on.

Run tall…stay in control…

You can use visualisation to turn them into pictures, and you can choose music that makes you feel e.g. tall.

Answer 2 Really Know WHY You Are Doing It

‘Self-motivation is everything.
When runners train for an event they want it.
When they begin an event they want it.
But at some point they stop wanting it.
And they quit.
Big events have a way of sifting out the talented runners, fit runners, fast runners.
The ones that remain? They are the ones who want it.
When the question ‘Why am I doing this?’ arises time and again, they have the answer every single time.’
Andrew Thompson, Appalachian Trail Record Holder

Harnessing Your Emotions: Mastery
How will you know it’s working? You will find yourself starting to experience the ultimate emotional state: Flow…otherwise known as In The Zone.
But that’s for another article.

Andy specializes in coaching ultra-marathon runners and triathletes in person and by telephone so that their training has balance and their race performance becomes more consistent. Andy is also the resident running coach on Alpine Oasis trail running camps, which run in the UK and France. For more information please visit.

Read Andy's other articles on Run Ultra:

10 Things you need to know about ultramarathon running.

Another 10 things you need to know about ultramarathon running.

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