The Mental Approach to Long Runs and Races!
Experts say if you build the physical part of any activity, the mental component will become much easier to handle. This logic is used to help prepare recruits for basic training, for example. The idea is if you are physically ready for anything and everything the drill sergeant might throw at you, the mental part will follow suit.
Sometimes, the mental parts are much more difficult than some of the physical parts could ever be. Why is that? Because when the body starts to break down during a difficult task, it stands to reason the impact will also be psychological.
So how do you stay strong during a long run? Can mental toughness be learned or cultivated? How far does a positive attitude carry you while doing something physically taxing?
Defining Mental Toughness
When life starts to get difficult, whether that be physically or emotionally, mental toughness gives us the intestinal fortitude to continue moving forward. When you start to get physically uncomfortable you can keep pushing on.
This includes when life gets very difficult from an emotional perspective, whether that means life is handing you curveballs like a death in the family or a job loss. Athletes often find themselves falling deep into an abyss as they dig deeper into some types of training or competition.
What does that mean? When the going gets tough, the mentally tough get going!
Building Mental Toughness
When considering mental toughness and athleticism, the number one way you can help improve it is to train in hard circumstances. For example, as a coach, I always have athletes train in challenging situations in order to work on this.
Training in wind, snow and rain can help an athlete become familiar with how that would feel if you end up racing in this type of weather. If you don’t train in difficult weather, it can tear you right down on race day!
There are many other ways to increase your own tolerance and to break down the mental noise in your own head.
Train Hard to Race Hard
Another thing to consider is the type of workout you should do in order to increase your mental toughness. If every run you do is an easy run and then you try to race hard, this will likely end up with you being frustrated.
However, if you do difficult workouts, you are more likely to feel like you can push through and survive those tough situations on race day.
Challenging workouts could include:
- Track work
- Repeats (such as mile repeats)
- Tempo runs
Remember, you need to train hard in order to race hard. Coaches are fond of saying “Practice like you intend to play.” This coach’s adage holds true in running.
Building Routine Builds Success
Creating a routine can help you to build mental strength. That may sound odd to some. Why? Because it is difficult to reconcile how those are related. So how does it work?
When you are routinely doing certain things, your body and mind both acclimate. If you routinely get up early, eat oatmeal and run 15 miles, your body starts to expect it. If you jack up your midweek tempo run, and consistently use that as some speedwork, your body also acclimates to that.
The more you build a routine, the more familiar your body gets with what you are doing. This physical training does also inch over into mental because you are continually pushing your body to do hard things. When you add these aspects to the other things, the mental aspect of running becomes easier.
Using a Mantra
A mantra is a great way to help keep yourself mentally strong. Why is a mantra important? Believe it or not, repeating the same thing over and over in your head can help you to start to believe it.
You would not intentionally say things to yourself knowing that those words would derail your workout or stop you from reaching your personal goals, would you? Of course not!
So why let those thoughts and that negative energy sneak into your head? If you are thinking that it is unavoidable, you are wrong Pick some mantras for yourself. These are keywords or phrases that will help you maintain focus when running.
Mantras can be very simple, complicated, generic or very personal. Some examples:
- I can, I will!
- I am strong!
- I am stronger than this challenge.
- Run the mile you’re in.
- I’m a rockstar!
- I can do hard things.
- Strong. Focused. Relaxed.
- Bigger, faster, stronger.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
- No tears, only dreams.
- No regrets.
- Leave it all on the course.
Visualizing your race and mentally seeing and feeling success is another tactic. How does that happen? First, you familiarize yourself with the route. You can research the course if it is not close enough for you to visit and jog on. If you know that the race you are going to will have a mile at mile 3, followed by flat miles, you should actually close your eyes and picture that.
How to visualize? Once you know what you are visualizing, you set the stage. Find yourself a dark, quiet place. You can play quiet music if you want. Start deep breathing and get yourself to a state of total relaxation. Once you are there, you should begin to picture yourself going through your race.
Picture yourself starting the race, surrounded by others in the energy of the starting corrals. Imagine yourself moving along the course quickly, looking strong. Focus on your form. As mentioned before, if you know there is a significant hill you should visualize yourself powering up the hill. Think about the pumping of your arms, focus on the movement of your feet.
You should also picture a strong finish as you power through the final stage of the race. See yourself finishing strong and confident. Imagine the number you are shooting for, there on the face of your Garmin.
Consider putting that time goal, if you have one, somewhere you will see it on a daily basis.
Mind Over Matter
The idea of mind over matter in running and racing means that you are tricking your body into pushing harder. In some ways, the body will do what the brain tells it to. Of course, you do need to have the training behind you in order to succeed; however, your brain can often take you further than your body knows it can go!
This is where your mindset comes into play. Would you be surprised to hear that in some studies, athletes given a placebo in place of what they think is a performance enhancement drink often perform at a higher level? Just more evidence that the brain is a powerful thing.
Focus, Believe, Achieve
As you prepare for either a long run or race, the mental portion is equally as important as the physical portion. Once you do the physical work, you need to do the mental work.
Work toward building a positive mindset within yourself in order to put yourself in the best position for success. Do the hard things in practice, but also keep the positive mindset needed to help you sparkle your way to achieving your best with a smile on your face.