I'll admit I love to compete. And I also will admit that usually somewhere along the race course - no matter the distance - negative self-talk enters my head. "I went out too fast." "I feel terrible." "Why are my legs so freaking heavy?" "I hate running." As a result, I tell myself some really awful things. However recently, I have been working on ways to refocus that negative energy into something more positive.
Here are a few things for you to try to up your mental game when racing.
Constantly monitoring how you feel is a drag. Literally. Every breath seems more laborious, every footfall seems more punishing. Instead, do a periodic body scan during the race. If all is well, shift your thinking back toward the race itself - the course, your form, your competition. I like to remind myself to wiggle my toes and shake out my arms. Both of these actions relax parts of my body that tense up in a race, especially a longer one.
Another strategy to try is breaking a race into segments. This can help you overcome mental blocks by allowing you to focus on achieving smaller goals inside of a race. I will be honest in that I don't assign time goals when I do this but rather effort goals, i.e., push hard at the beginning to get out fast, settle in to a solid pace in the middle, insert mini-surges when I feel tired, etc. I have found that doing this helps me race more effectively while keeping those negative thoughts at bay.
Running mantras can be a lifesaver when all else seems to fail. "Hills are our friends" (said in the voice of Bruce from Finding Nemo) was my mantra at one hilly half marathon. "I've run mountains" was another I used for Boston. One of my personal favorites is "58-48-point 5" which refers to a sign noting the altitude at the track where I do many of my speed workouts. Think up your own list of potential mantras and practice using them at different points during your training. The goal is to make them virtually automatic so when the negative stuff comes up, you are armed with a ready response.