Ask The Fitness Psych: Morning vs. Night Runs and Pre-Race Mental Tips
In the first installment of the RockMyRun ‘Ask The Fitness Psych’ blog series, fitness, sports and health behavior science coach Dr. Michael Mantell answers questions from RunRockers! Have your own question? Email Dr. Mantell at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question.
Here’s the simple answer: whenever you can enjoy it the most. That said, there are some technical and physiological considerations to keep in mind. The best time to exercise, including running, is when your body temperature reaches a peak and your muscles are most supple, commonly in the late afternoon. Early morning runners enjoy the motivational jolt it gives the day, despite the fact that it’s not considered the best from a physiological perspective—stiff muscles and low body temperature don’t make for an easily executed run. If you are training for a race, which most often gets started early in the day, it’s a great idea to run in the morning to be prepared for the big “ready, set, GO.” While running at the end of a workday can be a mental challenge, there is research that suggests there is an increase in lung function and peak performance later in the day, making the run surprisingly easier to do.
I’m relatively new to racing (obstacle/road). I’m having a hard time getting psyched up. Then I have trouble settling my nerves. Do you have any pre- race techniques I could use? –RunRocker Sean
“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” -Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner
I’ll offer you a number of tips to get yourself mentally ready to settle your nerves and avoid any mentally created obstacles.
- Rehearse the race before you cross the start line. This requires you to plan out your speed, stride, step and pace.
- Be sure you’ve accustomed yourself to the course you are going to run. This will help decide when to use associative or dissociative thinking style along the path, especially as you break the run down into segments.
- Plan your thoughts across the run in advance. Associative thoughts are about your bodily sensations and self-talk. Dissociative thinking is used to distract you from fatigue, such as music, counting, fantasizing, people watching. Associative thinking is typically connected to faster running times, and used at key times during a race to propel the runner, while dissociative thinking is often switched to when fatigue and pain set in.
- Self-talk is not always a bad thing. What are you telling yourself or predicting before you start? Make sure to encourage yourself and not predict in your mind obstacles that don’t exist.
- Goals? Focus on process goals, not the outcome. Compare and despair at your own risk. It’s not an “all or nothing” run. Run without expectations except to meet your goals along the way.
- Stay physically relaxed using deep and slow breathing and use mind-body internal reflections to scan your body for tension to be released once you find it. Visualize the race using all senses – see yourself running, image what people look like along the way and watch yourself crossing the finish line in good spirits.
Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has served as a long-time Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and today is the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise, a behavioral sciences coach, an author and a national fitness-health speaker. In 2013, Greatist.com named Dr. Mantell as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”