To race your at your fastest, your brain needs a taper as much as your body does
IN THE LATE 1880s, an Italian physiologist named Angelo Mosso made a curious observation: he tested the muscular endurance of two fellow professors before and after they gave a series of oral exams and found that their muscles tired more quickly after their mental efforts. It was the first demonstration that mental fatigue affects physical performance – a lesson to remember in the days leading up to a race. Just as you taper your mileage to make sure your legs are ready to race, you should also taper your mind.
Mental imagery can be powerful: if you’re injured and immobilised in a cast, for example, you can maintain some of your muscle strength by imagining contractions of the immobilised muscles. But there’s a cost: in 2014, Canadian researchers found that visualising a fatiguing action decreased muscular endurance in a subsequent test. Visualising your race is a great way to prepare to achieve your goals, but ease off in the days leading up to your race.
The longer the race, the longer you’ll have to maintain your focus, so mental fatigue is a particular concern in races of 10K or longer. So the days before an important race are not the time to, say, write that job application. If you’re travelling to an overseas race, consider arriving an extra night early. And try to make as many decisions as possible in advance: book your prerace dinner reservation, figure out your race-day logistics and find a good book to read or movie to watch. Oh, and turn off your work email. You’ve invested a lot of effort to get your body in peak form, so make sure your mind is just as primed to compete.