The Lone Racer – Staying Sharp When Racing and Running Alone
By Rick Morris
Distance running is, for the most part, a solitary activity. Running and racing alone can be commonplace. For most runners, distance training involves mile after lonely mile, or for my brothers and sisters across the pond, kilometer after kilometer of companionless running. That isn’t necessarily a negative aspect of distance running. In fact, one of treasures of running is that time alone for meditation and reflection.
However, running alone can have some negative affects. There are times, especially during a competitive event or race when company and nearby competition can provide valuable benefits. Nearby competitors provide some much needed and most appreciated motivation and mental stimulation.
During most competitive distance running events you will be surrounded and motivated by many nearby runners, but there are still those times when you may find yourself running alone in a race. Extended periods of running alone are particularly common in trail running and longer events such as marathons and ultra marathons when the field begins to stretch out over the course.
Being a lone racer can present some motivation challenges, but nothing that you can’t easily overcome. Here are just a few tips to stay strong, fast and mentally sharp when you are running alone.
Go Deep Inside
There are a couple of common psychological techniques that can help keep you motivated when you are the lone racer. One of them is association. You basically begin to keep close tabs on how your body is operating. Go deep inside and pay attention to your breathing, your tension level, your mental state, your heart rate and your rate of perceived exertion. If something seems out of whack, make the necessary adjustments. Paying close attention to your body can take your mind off your loneliness.
Go Far Outside
This one is the direct opposite of association, it’s disassociation. This technique involves taking your mind completely off how you are feeling and the race situation. Instead you focus on the scenery, the environment or even an imaginary Shangri-la in your mind. This is an effective trick that can make the time and miles fly by.
Another way to stay motivated and keep up a quality pace is to focus on your running stride and mechanics. Concentrate on each and every stride you take. Feel your foot contact the ground and spring lightly back into the air. Focus on proper foot strike, posture and cadence. Not only will you stay motivated but you may even improve your pace and efficiency.
Going with the flow is a good lone racer technique, as long as you aren’t trying to catch or keep away from fellow competitors. Getting in a good running rhythm and cruising along makes for a very enjoyable and efficient race. Imagine flowing smoothly along the road with very little impact and keep up a nice steady pace. Just enjoy your run. You won’t even know you are a lone racer.
Let it Fly
Yep, I know – running at a pace that is not maintainable isn’t usually a good idea. But it can sure be fun and exhilarating. The next time you’re the lone racer why not let it fly once in a while. Pick up the pace and have some fun.
This one is my personal favorite when it comes to lone racer strategy. Take advantage of your solitude for some spiritually uplifting and mentally refreshing meditation. Distance running is really a meditative activity anyway. Mediate on whatever moves you. Or go the Buddhist route and mediate on emptiness. You will end your run happier, healthier and spiritually stronger.