Chip timers and online results can add real pressure to race day, but here’s why you should embrace your ranking whether you’re on the podium or at the back.
Sometimes when I’m racing, it feels like I’m flying. You know that sense that your breathing is steady, your mindset is positive, you’re physically strong and well-nourished. I look at my watch to check my pace and I’m on track to beat a personal best! Then other times, I feel like I’m flying, but my watch begs to differ.
It’s almost impossible not to load up the pressure on yourself on race day, isn’t it? After all, that’s the whole point – it’s a race, not a fun run. But from all the road races, ultras and multi-day extreme challenges I’ve taken part in, I’ve learned a lot about the psychology of competition. Here’s how to think about your placing, wherever you finish in the pack.
1. You placed higher than you thought you would
I have to be honest, I’m most often a better-than-average mid finisher, not some hardcore gold medallist. But I do have days when I perform at my peak and do better than expected. These moments are wonderful, but they also offer a remarkable learning experience. I take time after a good placing to analyse my success. How did I mentally prepare? What did I eat? Did I sleep especially well? Was there anything significant happening in the days running up to my race that affected my attention? I suggest jotting it down. It can help you build up your own personal reference chart of what did or didn’t work for you. It may help you recreate the performance again.
2. You think about your age group placing
It’s great to have a competitive spirit – I’ve learned a lot about how I view the psychology of competition. My biggest competitor is myself and it’s partly what gets me up and out of bed for training in the morning, but I do also have to remember I’m not 20 anymore. So I advise you to always consider how well you’ve done in your age bracket and what you have achieved that day. At the Marathon Des Sables, I came 11th in the over 50 female category. When I weighed that against the 55 who competed, I was over the moon.
3. You’re somewhere in the middle
This is where I most often find myself and sometimes I think I could have done better. However, being 54, I am very happy and grateful to be participating in extreme events with no plans of stopping. With that perspective, I set my overall goal to be the best I can be, improve where I can, push myself, and finish without injury. I want to stay healthy so I can carry on being active, and competing in the sport I love.
4. You came last
The idea of coming last to me is psychological. You only ‘fail’ at something if that is how you frame it in your mind. I always aim to transform that ugh and despondency with a ‘CONGRATULATIONS… you did it!’ After all, however slow we go, we’re all out there taking part! There’s always such a great atmosphere at races and it’s a privilege to be well enough to compete. And anyway, wherever we come, the medal is the same!