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The Mental Side of Running

posted by Amanda
The Mental Side of Running

There are two major aspects of training for runners; the physical training, and training of the mind. When training for a race, we push our bodies to the limit, and experience success through hard work, sweat, guts, and exhaustion. Yet, no matter how hard we push our bodies to work, without the proper mental training and attitude, the legs will say, “go” but the mind says, “no”.  Here are three basic ways to “train your brain.”

1.Goal Setting

Goals are perhaps the most important part of a training plan. Without proper goals, you lack structure and motivation in your training. A proper goal should incorporate the SMART goal guidelines:

Specific (example: hitting 6 min pace or faster for a 5 mile tempo run)

Measureable (Running sub 20 in the 5k)

Adjustable (changing goal from wanting to break 40min in 10k, to break 41 minutes first)

Realistic (A 3:05 marathoner hoping to break 3 hours)

Timely (Losing 10lbs by December 1st)

When setting goals, it is important to stick with them. Even if you fall short, your goals should be adjustable if you find they are not quite realistic. As a runner, there are two important types of goals; process goals, and outcome goals. Process goals can be ongoing, and they involve how you do something, for example, how you build up your mileage. Whereas outcome goals have a conclusion, such as a certain finishing place or time.

2. Visualization:

Visualization can be a very beneficial tool for the mental aspect of running.  According to a Sports Psychology PhD Student at Florida State University there are three keys to successful visualization; practice, purpose, and richness. Just like in physical training, practice makes perfect, so the visualization process is not something that works instantly. Begin practicing visualization techniques before workouts instead of waiting for your big race. Be sure to recognize the purpose of your visualization. Think about exactly what your goals are, your areas of emphasis, as well as the areas you seek improvement. Your purpose may be to visualize having confidence in your finishing kick, or to keep up with a specific competitor, or imagining hitting all of your splits. For shorter races, real-time visualization can be a great way to prepare for a competition. Yet, even long races can benefit from a sort of real-time visualization. Certainly you wouldn’t want to lie down for 3 hours visualizing an entire marathon, however during the weeks leading up to a long distance race, taking time to imagine the start of a 7am race every morning at 7am, and imagining the finish occurring every morning at 10am, can help you feel comfortable and achieve your goal come race day. One key aspect of visualization is attention to detail. A good visualization should touch on all 5 senses. For example, hearing the gun and the heavy breathing, feeling the bumpy grass, or hard asphalt, tasting the GU at mile 20, or seeing the masses of runners around you. Finally, keeping the visualization optimistic has been proven to yield positive outcomes in most races. Having optimism and confidence will allow you to get a good nights rest and not stay up worrying.

 3. Self Talk

Self-talk is simply any conversation you carry on with yourself. When we run, we often say to ourselves things such as, “I feel good,” or “There’s no way I’m going to hit this split,” or perhaps, “I can do this.”  All of these phrases we think to ourselves affect our performance. Despite whether or not an interval time is realistic to achieve, saying we “can’t” sends a message to our brain and to our legs that we “can’t, and progression stops right there. It’s amazing how much easier it is to obtain a goal simply by using confident self-talk. “Understand how you are motivated, and recognize that the words you say to yourself, your self-talk, are very powerful and (they) will either hold you back or push you forward,” says Walker. Self-talk can also hurt your running. When it becomes negative, it can actually stop you from doing things are perfectly capable of. Having a positive perception of one’s self, and keeping your self talk positive, will help you have confidence in your goals, visualizations, and finally your races.


About the Author: Amanda Winslow, is a junior at Florida State University, and a member of the Seminoles Cross Country and Track & Field teams.  She enjoys long runs on the sandy trails of Tallahassee, as well as creative writing, photography and painting (see original artwork above).

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