Cross Country

Is Your Head Getting in the Way of your racing?

You have to be able to rebound quickly and not carry mistakes into the next moment!

So what kind of a head do you have on your shoulders? Are you competing at the level that you’re capable of? Or do you regularly perform better in practice than you do in important competitions? Are there particular opponents who you consistently lose to who have no business beating you? Do fears and self-doubts paralyze you and prevent you from performing to your potential? Are you the kind of athlete who regularly steals defeat from the closing jaws of victory?

If some of these questions bother you, then you probably already know how critically important the mental part of your sport is. If you want to take your racing performance to the next level, then you have to be willing to take your training far beyond where most athletes stop. Most serious runners in XC religiously work on the physical part of the sport. They’ll work on their strength, fitness, and endurance. They’ll work on the proper technique. Is this stuff important? You betcha! You can’t become successful without “paying your physical dues” in this way. Hard work is definitely one of the keys to your success on the course. Without it, you’ll quickly fall behind.

Races are won and lost before the start

  1. What you focus on before and during your races will determine how well you run
  2. Keep your focus on YOUR warm up and pre-race routine, NOT on other runners
  3. Keep your concentration in the present and away from the future and your time or place
  4. Be aware whenever your focus drifts to others or to your time, and quickly bring your focus back.
  5. Be prepared to “reset” in this way as many times as you drift!
  6. Practice controlling your focus in practice to develop this skill for racing so that it becomes automatic.

Unfortunately, this is where most runners stop. When they go into their races, they hope they’ll perform well; they hope that they’ll have their “A” game with them today; they hope that they’ll win. You would never leave your strength, conditioning, or technique to chance. So why would you leave the most important part of your racing performance – the mental part – to chance?

Think about this: Getting good as a runner in practice is 95% physical and 5% mental. Translation: You have to work hard on your conditioning and “physical game” to make it happen. However, once you line up against your opponent, the percentages flip-flop. Being successful is 95% mental and 5% physical.


You have the conditioning, technique, and strategy; now you have to make sure that you stay calm under pressure and keep yourself focused on the right things. For example, your concentration needs to stay in the moment, on responding immediately to the racing situation that you find yourself in and being ready to adjust at a moment’s notice to sudden and sometimes unexpected changes in the course. If you let your mind jump ahead to the future, (i.e. thinking about winning or losing) or slip back to the past (i.e. a previous mistake or run), then you’ll end up getting yourself too uptight and distracted to perform to your potential. This means that you have to be able to rebound quickly from your mistakes and not carry them into the next moment or race.

You have to learn to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence of a champion.

Last minute negative thinking and doubts.

  1. Last minute negative thinking and doubts are normal.
  2. Let them pass through without engaging them.
  3. Don’t try to replace negative thinking with positives. It only gets you in your head more!
  4. You allow negatives to pass through by switching your focus to what you’re doing, i.e. your warm up, pre-race routine or rhythm/pace during the race.
  5. Practice in practice ignoring your negative thinking by distracting yourself with what you are doing.

Dr. Alan Goldberg is an internationally recognized expert in the field of performance enhancement. As a Sports Performance Consultant Dr. G works with XC runners at every level helping them develop mental toughness, better handle competitive pressure and perform to their potential. Dr. G writes on the subjects of peak performance and mental toughness. He is the author of the revolutionary book, This is Your Brain on Sports.

  • I used to get so nervous before my races and guys I'd beat in practice would always beat me. I can't tell you how frustrating this has been.  Since I started working with your MP3's  I am able to stay calm before the gun and run like I do in practice, FASTER! I can't tell what relief I feel!

    Josh New Hampshire
  • I run XC in college at a D-1 school and every coach has told me, 'you think too much, and that's why you're running tight and slow.' My coach recommended 14 Steps and I have to say it has really helped me deal with the over-thinking that has plagued me for years! My confidence is back!

    Ted Massachusetts
  • You are right! Races are won and lost before the start! Thanks for teaching me what to do and NOT do with my mind before I run so that I stay loose and calm. I have to give you and your MP3's credit for my turnaround! Now I get excited before I race instead of filled with worry and dread.

    Nathan Pennsylvania


OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE FEARS AND BLOCKS Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities? FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!

NO ONE CAN PSYCH YOU OUT UNLESS YOU ALLOW IT! Ever been totally psyched out or intimidated before? Have you ever been filled with such powerful, last minute self-doubts pre-performance that you could barely move, never mind play to your potential? Are you tired of having to face that…

THE MENTAL SIDE OF ATHLETIC INJURIES The mental pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this type of pain is directly addressed and “treated”, your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete.


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