Racing can be painful. For some reason, we keep coming back for more, signing up for event after event, year after year.

Use these tricks to navigate challenging moments during a race.

Every triathlete knows that racing can be painful, particularly that final leg. For some reason, we keep coming back for more, signing up for event after event, year after year. To understand this phenomenon, researchers out of Jagiellonian University in Krakow worked with a group of marathon runners.

They first surveyed participants right after crossing the finish line of the 2012 Cracovia Marathon, asking them to rate their pain and happiness in that moment. Several months later, the runners were asked to recall their pain from the race and rate it again.

The large majority of the group reported the race to have been significantly less painful 3–6 months after the fact than when they were standing in the finish chute. Notably, the runners who rated their happiness as being lower at the end of the race tended to also recall their pain more accurately. This suggests that if you enjoy the race, months later those positive memories will trump the pain that also accompanied it.

“When you speak to athletes who are being selectively amnesic regarding a difficult race performance, they may not recall the bad aspects of the race and only recall the positive aspects,” explains Gloria Petruzzelli, a clinical sports psychologist and Ironman finisher. “This can be an effective approach when racing an Ironman event or a marathon, because focusing on every bad feeling, sensation or situation can be debilitating toward performance.”

Put simply, when you enjoy the race at hand, you’re less likely to dwell on the pain and discomfort that goes hand-in-hand with endurance performance. Riding the wave of those positive memories, you’re more likely to sign up for other events in turn.

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Tips to Boost Your Racing Enjoyment and Longevity

Be picky about the races you sign up for. When you choose events with great scenery and fun courses, as well as distances you like, you’re more likely to enjoy the process of the race. “The more you enjoy what you’re doing, the higher your motivation will be and the more likely you will have a great race day,” Petruzzelli says.

Have a higher purpose. “I think athletes often continue to sign up for races even when they know they’ll encounter pain because there is a deeper purpose, meaning or value they place on their sport or event that lasts far beyond the temporary pain of the race,” explains Petruzzelli. So whether you’re racing for a meaningful cause or simply want to prove something to yourself by completing an event, it’s important to have a greater reason for racing.

Stay positive. Regardless of outside factors, a positive inner dialogue can make all the difference when it comes to enjoyment on race day. “Mantras and quotes are great for keeping and redirecting your mental focus during competition,” says Petruzzelli. “These can help you challenge negative self-talk when your body starts to fatigue and your mind starts to question its ability to push through.”

Set goals. “Goal setting is key to ensuring an athlete has a positive race experience,” says Petruzzelli. “The more vivid and clear the goal, the more your brain and body know where to focus during the event, and motivation increases when we know where we are aiming our efforts.” What’s more, when you accomplish your goals, you’ll be even more pumped to set new ones.

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