If you have ever seen me directly before a race, you would think I was a horrible person. Generally I am scowling, pacing around, and talking to myself. I have learnt over the years that I run best when I am angry and aggressive, so I have to find ways to get myself there. One way I do that is by listening to heavy rock music (my favourite bands are the Amity Affliction, Enter Shikari, and Bring Me The Horizon).
Another way for me to get to this point is by having a few key mental cues that I keep repeating to myself. These differ over a time period, but currently I am focusing on getting to 30m hard, so that is my main cue. From this, it’s not too hard to guess that I need a high level of “arousal” (in the mental sense) to run quickly. I find that if I am doing smaller meets, or meets that don’t really matter, I can’t get pumped up enough to run well. It might not be the same for you; you might require less arousal than me to perform well.
A simple model for this is the Yerkes- Dodson Inverted U Theory, whereby there is an optimal level of arousal for performance. Too little or too much arousal leads to a decrease in performance. This model also takes into consideration individual differences, so everyone has their own optimal arousal level, and points where they are under- and over-aroused. A more recent model is the Catastrophe model by Hardy and Fazey, which states that performance increases with arousal up to a point, after which performance dramatically decreases. I’ve been there- far too aroused to perform well, and it isn’t fun.
It takes experience and practice to get into the correct zone for performance. Over time, you pick and choose the routines and cues that get you into the optimum zone, and it becomes easy. Its best to experiment in training and smaller competitions to see what works and what doesn’t. As I mentioned, I have my own little routines- what are yours? And what is your optimal zone?