"There are no stressful situations, only stressful reactions."
Perception of effort and pain has a major impact on performance. This is true while you are racing for sure, as it is the mind that makes decisions on whether you will slow down or speed up at certain points. This is why we train, we are essentially training the body to make pain more tolerable at faster paces. At any point of a race though, you need to build that mental toughness to push beyond what only your mind can limit you from achieving. This is why we need to focus not only priming our legs, lungs and heart to be stronger, but also thinking about our thoughts while we are practicing or pushing through a tough run.
The most interesting part about how we feel while racing or running is that our thoughts prior to any activity will greatly affect our perception of that activity once we start. This has been scientifically backed (if you're nerdy enough to read the whole article). A test was done on subjects that flashed either red, green or blue lights before applying a slight burning sensation on the hand of the subject. Over time, the subjects realized that certain colors corresponded to certain pain, and they were able to measure these subjects' brain activity before being applied the burn. The subjects started experiencing a higher perceived pain when these colors flashed, and even primed themselves for it ahead of time.
As a recent example, this weekend was hot, but rather than fearing how the heat will affect you, it's best to create the understanding of the conditions you'll face and go into it knowing you can still have a good run. If you look at the uncontrollable elements as restraints, you will greatly inhibit yourself from having a good run or race. Your first few runs in the heat may be difficult, but your mind and body adapt to different conditions and thus make you more capable of conquering any type of condition. As we know in fall and spring, the weather can be anything but predictable. It's best to recognize the conditions, go through it once mentally in your head, but then focus on what you can control and know that the conditions are not something that will affect you against a field of other runners facing the same conditions. In fact, you can gain a huge advantage on others by staying focused on your efforts and responding to difficult in race moments with positive self talk that you can achieve your goals.
With training, you can get a huge bump in performance by going into workouts and runs with an understanding of what you are about to experience, but with a confidence that you can handle the task at hand. Going into a hot run with a positive mindset can set you up for an awesome run, and maybe even faster than if it had been a nice cool day. There is tons of literature on marathoners performances in adverse conditions, and how it's the mind of the individual that actually enhances or inhibits the performance. This can be most recently seen in the windy, rainy and cold Boston Marathon where both champions Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi both came there to win, and ran their race not thinking about the conditions. Many great athletes dropped out of the race, not because the conditions had a physical toll, but rather these runners had a higher perceived effort and pain level from the conditions. They didn't prepare mentally to feel worse at mile ten than they usually would feel at that point in the race in cool and calm conditions. They were plenty fit, and the body was plenty primed, but their perceived effort was so high that the brain told them to shut it down. The message here is that some intervals or workouts you may not feel your best early on, but it's important to use those situations and realize you can bounce back on later intervals or miles. This can happen in a race where you feel more tired than usual early, but end up getting through the bumpy section and running your best race ever.
Lastly, for newer runners I keep reminding you all to be patient! With that, it's important to keep pushing yourself beyond what you thought was originally possible. Many guys have walked/ran the first couple weeks which is okay, but now it's time to start thinking about what drives your decisions to walk or slow down. Is it that you really can't keep running, or is it a fear that you have a lot of road left to cover and are afraid to burn out? My advice, don't be afraid of the unknown. Prep yourself to get a bit more uncomfortable and keep pushing beyond what you thought your limits were. This is exactly the reason why our coaches don't preach to "raise the bar", but rather preach that there is no bar at all. Nobody has a limit to what they can achieve, whether it be running or any other skill. It just takes a ton of consistency and some positive mental talk to take yourself to new levels.
Keep working together, having fun and becoming dedicated to each other and our goals.