Mental Training for Runners
Welcome back to another week!
I had a fabulous weekend. I took in another Jays game on Friday night and headed to Michigan for the Yankee Springs Trail Race for Sunday morning. It’s always good to see running friends again and spend some time on new trails. I will be posting a full review on Friday!
Today I wanted to talk about a different kind of training. So often as runners, we are focused on hills, sprints, tempos and long run training that we forget perhaps the most important of all – mental training.
It has been absolutely incredible to me to see the power of my mind on how a race will go. Some of my best races were when I was most at ease, not thinking about my performance because, quite honestly, I was not expecting anything much. The moment I put mental stress on myself, I have a more difficult time performing well.
Over the years as a runner, I have worked HARD on this and my ability to mentally push through uncomfortable or painful situations has significantly improved. Here are a few of my favourite tricks for improving your mental strength for your best race:
Visualization: For me, if I know the course, before I drift off to sleep, I imagine my best race on the course, what it would look like, what I am wearing, how I am feeling. It is the power of the self-fulfilling prophesy for me – if I believe it is going to be an AWESOME race, it often ends up being at least a good one.
Self Talk: This sounds ridiculous, but I focus HARD on being positive with myself. I speak to myself the way I would speak to team mates, internally thinking things like “Atta Girl!”, “Looking Strong!” or “You have GOT this!” Yes, I talk to myself during races. And it works. Because it works the opposite way as well. Thoughts such as “I’m tired” or “I can’t do this” will translate into a DNF or a bad race.
Relaxation: Before every race, I have a very similar ritual I go through. Wake up – put on race gear – eat breakfast – warm up – head to the starting line. I try to keep it more or less the same because it helps establish a feeling of familiarity for me. I’ve done this before and I rocked it!
Focus: I have been told I am a focused athlete to a fault. A number of months ago, my gym owner walked by the glass doors and saw me doing interval sprints on the treadmill with no earbuds, no music and no one else in the room. He opened the door and began waving and yelling my name.
I didn’t notice.
Focus is great when you have a goal. Set yours and go for it.
Mental Bargaining: When the wheels start falling off the wagon in a race, I begin mentally bargaining. I KNOW I am going to finish, but I break it down to something manageable. I start saying things like, “Just get through the next KM” and if I am fatigued or hitting the wall/bonking, I tell myself that speed DOES not matter but to focus on form. My last half marathon, when I was struggling through the last 2 km, I just told myself to make the best possible race photos with pristine form. Having a manageable goal helps distract you from your fatigue or the fact that you will not reach your goals every time.
Counting: This is the best mental trick I have. It also is the simplest. When I am running into a strong head wind, climbing the highest hill or trying to sustain a blistering pace in the heat of July, I just start counting. It literally takes my focus off of everything else and I count to 7, 9, 11 or any other uneven number. Why the uneven number? It helps ensure that you lead with a different foot.
It is so effective that I found myself automatically starting to use it when I am awkward or traumatic situations outside of running because I correlate pain with counting now. So if I randomly start screaming out odd numbers, you know to run the other way.
Embrace the Suck: I got this phrase from an army ranger in a 100 mile trek I did last year. When I am cold, hurting, hungry, anxious, needing to pee or any other host of discomforts that plague an athlete in competition and training, I swallow it whole. Just because it sucks, doesn’t mean it needs to be voiced. I take discomfort in training as a way to excel when things go wrong in racing.
Reframing: So you had the worst race of your life. Don’t beat yourself up. Go to the drawing board, figure out why it was awful and use that to propel you forward in your future races and use it as a positive learning experience.
I hope your future races and runs are filled with mental strength.
What are your best mental tricks and tips to stay sharp in training and racing?