[picapp src=”6/4/1/7/Not_Released_Athletics_74fd.jpg?adImageId=6052677&imageId=2353408″ width=”234″ height=”352″ /] My experimental psychology teacher liked to point out that the mere fact that you are present changes the system.  The old saying is that you can’t step in the same river twice because when you step into it, you change the system itself.  But Dr. Friedman took this further – the moment you are present, the system is already changed.  This also applies to sports performance.

We feel that when we run the same course in a road race or a cross country race, that we should better our prior performance.  That may be especially true when we venture back on the same course where we set a personal record.  But in truth, it is not the same course.  Each race is unique, even those run on the same location.  The weather is different – wind, humidity, temperature, etc.; the surface is different (especially true in cross country); your physical condition is different, and the race tactics are different because different competitors are in the race.  One way to deal with this is to set specific internal achievable goals for yourself.  You can set a time goal, but be aware that variables like the surface, the weather, and unforseen events like getting clipped by a competitor can all compromise this goal.  You can work on focus and concentration – your form, your pace, your turnover, running your own race and not someone else’s.  eHow gives several suggestions:

1. Use self-talk. Talk to yourself about the race or the workout, building confidence that you’re ready to go.

2. Think about the course and review your strategy.

3. Avoid letting your mind wander; focus on what you’re doing. If random thoughts occur, gently shift your attention back to the moment.

4. Concentrate on your breathing, your pace, the weather and your place compared to other runners.

5. Coach yourself through each section, advising yourself with comments like “relax and flow” and “keep it steady.” On uphill stretches, for example, remind yourself to “shorten your stride, lift those knees, pump your arms.”

6.Use imagery. Visualize a string between you and the runner in front of you. See yourself winding the string into a ball as you pull closer. (http://www.ehow.com/how_10632_mental-focus-running.html)

Positive self talk and visualization are essential ingredients of athletic performance and increase the chance of “flow”.  Begin practicing these in all your runs so they come automatically on race day. Positive self talk is all positive such as “relax and go”.  Talk such as “don’t stop” is not positive.  You are activating the part of your brain that says “stop” and it can slow you down.  It is similar to saying, “don’t think of a VW Beetle”.  What image pops into your mind?  Your running mantra needs to be positive – “relax, go, flow.”