I have read that running is as high as 90% mental (runnersworld article by Mackenzie Lobby “Mind Over Matter”). Whoa! It’s always interesting how people come up with these percentages but the point is true, our mental toughness is immensely important in training and race day. It is a huge component of running or fitness that we need to spend more time talking about and training in. Below I offer tips on how to grow stronger in your mental fitness
The brain is a unique muscle. It controls a lot of things including thoughts, feelings, and your physical movements. It is also something that can be tricked. People can be hypnotized, drugs can impair or cause our minds to see or feel certain things, and magicians can trick our observations and experiences. By the way, I am not promoting the use of hypnotism, drugs, and magic to help you in training or races. However, you can trick your mind during workouts. Some of my tricks include either closing my eyes briefly or visualizing things in my mind that help get my mind off of the pain I am feeling as I run. For example, on a tough interval workout I might visualize myself running on a slight downhill. Running downhill is easier and this trick temporary trick might help me keep my turnover up as I finish out my interval run. Sometimes I focus on counting to a certain number. For example, in the last mile of a tempo run you are usually pretty tired. I’ll count to 50 in my mind with a focus on not slowing down my cadence and pace. when I’m done, I start over and focus on counting the next 50 until I am done with my run. Again, my focus is on cadence, pace, and counting in my mind and not on how far I have to go and how painful the run is feeling.
Have a go to list of things that get your mind off of running. I run on the treadmill a lot during the winter. It can get boring. Yes, I do listen to music or watch videos from time to time. However, while those can be helpful in training, I also know that my music and my videos are not always available on race day. Therefore, I still try to incorporate other methods in my training to deal with the monotony of long miles in a boring setting. I can think about my cadence, pace, breathing, and intentionally try to relax my body as I run. I’ll picture myself out on some of my favorite trails or routes. I also do a lot of meditation on God’s Word or devote time to prayer. Notice, I will switch from one thing to another thing as one particular thing may not work for long as sometimes the intensity of a run may bring thoughts of pain or discomfort back to you. I simply move on to another thing for my mind to focus on as my store house of focus points for my mind are plentiful. For some people they just can’t stand long treadmill sessions and they end up shortening their training. I have trained my mind and body to handle sessions that go well over 2 hours with ease. Others have trained their mind to handle the bitter cold outside and they don’t run on treadmills often at all. This is something I have had to do as well for my long runs each week. It’s easy to cut off miles or skip a long run altogether if the weather is not nice but getting out there can make you tougher in the long run and help your mind and body adjust to the challenges of training.
Positive phrases are important to repeat to yourself. “I’ve got this”. “I feel good”. “It’s go time”. “I’ve done this a million times before “. Sometimes you have to tell yourself you can do it. It’s the negative thoughts that slow us down and cause us to quit. The positive thoughts are the thoughts we have to practice. In your training you need to channel these thoughts. The more you do this the more you will believe and respond to this personal self encouragement.
Visualization is important to success. Can you see yourself accomplishing your goals in the training session or in the race? You need to believe in yourself! What did you do when adversity hit? See yourself overcoming problems! Visualizing this can help you respond quickly and with a sense of readiness in the run. I will take time every week to visualize my hard workouts and I always run race day through my mind hundreds of times before my actual race. When you do this you are preparing your mind mentally for what you are about to do. You’re taking the shock, uncertainty, and nervous edge off for your run.