As Sophia Patrillo in Golden Girls would say, "Picture it"... you are starting out on your run and feeling at ease when for no certain reason you start to hear those negative voices creeping into your mind.
Running consistently is important and it is physically demanding; however, the mental aspect of running is often even more important. What is that mental barrier some of us have from time to time and how can we break it in order to obtain success in running long distance?
Running is 90% mental and 10% physical, and once you get a mind block it can be hard to overcome. In this article we will go over some training tips to help you get over your mental block and get your mind ready to keep up with your body.
Building Up Your Mental Toughness For Running
Athletes spend a enormous amount of time planning and executing physical workouts; however, we are often delinquent on the amount of time spent on mental training. "The human brain has many jobs, but they all boil down to protecting you and to keeping you alive. When you begin to experience discomfort, the intensity of your discomfort all depends on how much further your brain thinks you have to go with this pain. When the finish line is really far away, your rate of perceived exertion is higher even if the workload or effort level is the same. This is the way your body is trying to protect you to make sure you don’t empty your reserves. Even though it’s well-intentioned, your brain will convince you that you’ve reached your limit when, in fact, you’re quite far from it." (cited: https://www.trailrunnermag.com/).
Belief is the key: You have to believe that what the mind conceives it can actually achieve. By race day, you have trained and worked toward your goal. When you are toeing the start line, you need to believe in your ability to achieve a successful race. You strengthen the mind the same way you strengthen your body, with practice. You need to condition your mind to believe in success and reframe any negative thoughts. A great way (and leads us to the next tip) is differentiating between ruminating and problem-solving.
Visualization for runners: This is a very effective tool. Playing the "what if" game over and over until every "what if" has an answer to it that reveals success.
Let's Play. What if:
The weather is awful on race day? Well, everyone else is running in the same conditions as I am and we all will be effected by it. If I take into consideration the weather and run a smart race within the conditions given I might do better than the others not ready for an impromptu change. Also, I have trained in all kinds of weather, I am ready.
I hit the wall? I am not the only person that will get to a point in the race where they feel they cannot go on or need to walk. What if I just lower the speed until my second wind comes? Most people do not push further than there second wind to know that there is a third/fourth wind waiting for them. Let me assess this situation, there is a difference between bonking (out of energy sources) and fatigue. Am I just feeling fatigued? I expected to feel this way and know my training has me prepared to push through to the finish line.
Playing the “what if” game, prior to race day, is helpful only if you provide a solution to every possible fear. When you take the guess work out of the game and replace you questions with realistic solutions, you are left with confidence and determination.
Make peace with discomfort: No one ever gets stronger by stopping when things get difficult. You have to accept and get used to the discomfort that is happening during training so you can embrace the pain during race day.
"Roebuck et al. performed a research study to uncover some of the contributing factors to what they identified as “supranormal pain tolerance” in ultramarathon runners. They had participants perform a cold pressor test (holding their hands in ice-cold water) and then, upon completion, issued them pain-related questionnaires. Compared to the control group, the immersion time for ultrarunners was significantly longer. Through the information gathered in the questionnaires, the researchers found that up to 40 percent of the performance disparity in the test could be explained by differences in pain-avoidance behaviors. In other words, it wasn’t that the ultrarunners felt less pain. They were just better at accepting it.
When you try to avoid or escape something, the resistance generally intensifies the experience rather than ridding you of it. Not only do you not feel any less pain or discomfort, but the fact that things aren’t improving increases anxiety about the situation you’re in. It’s in that state that athletes start to make mistakes or decide to call it quits when they physically could have made it to the finish line.
Mindfulness and acceptance techniques are a very effective way to start noticing and acknowledging any discomfort while also making peace with it. In workouts and training runs, practice noticing that it’s hard or that your legs are throbbing without putting mental energy into wishing it away. Learn to embrace the struggle as a welcomed and reliable training partner. " (cited: https://www.trailrunnermag.com/).
Develop a inspirational saying or motto: You could pick the hook from your favorite song, chant your favorite quote, or make up something on your own. But, when the going gets tough don't let your inner negative thoughts begin speaking, quiet them and replace them with your motto. Some of my go-to quotes are always, "You didn't come this far, to only go this far" or "If you stop now, you will regret it later". Whether it’s a lyric from your favorite song, one of your favorite quotes, or something you make up in your own mind, being able to turn to a motto when hit a mind block can make a big difference.
In summary, running is not just physically demanding. Arguably it is more about mental toughness. Practicing mental strength, prior to race day, is just as important as running consistently. You have to find whatever mental exercise that works to help you get every last bit of energy out of yourself and to the finish line. Remember, nothing worth doing is ever easy. Don't let all your physical training go to waste because you allowed mental barriers/negative thoughts to creep in. Prepare yourself mentally and physically.