To run your best, a number of factors come into play: you must be physically fit, determined and arrive to the starting line uninjured. However, an often overlooked aspect of racing is the mental game. Running, more so than perhaps any other sport, is extremely dependent on mental toughness and the ability to push your body through boredom, pain and weakness. Below are three strategies to help you tackle your mental game and improve your running ability.
Have you ever gone into race day, barraging yourself with negative self talk before the race has even begun? Examples include complaining about the weather, questioning the quality of your training and evaluating the way the course will affect your time. While this negativity may seem harmless, the truth is that it weighs you down and can lead to slower times. According to sports psychologist Dean Hebert, the reframing technique is one of the best mental game tools in a runner’s arsenal Instead of saying, “the hills will slow me down today,” a positive reframe would be, “the hills will help me showcase how tough I really am.” Or, instead of worrying about a competitor beating you during a race, you can reframe the situation positively by pointing out to yourself that competition brings out the best in every competitor. Small changes in mindset like these can make a big difference.
Developing a Mantra
Common areas of weakness that runners often complain about having are the tendency to slow down at the end of the race or give up during the middle miles of a long run. For these runners, the development of a mantra can be helpful. Mantras are short phrases that can be repeated over and over throughout the race that help the brain focus on positivity. Mantras include “I am strong,” “one more mile,” or “I belong.” Mantras are just one small change a runner can make to improve his or her confidence, as they condition the brain for greater self-belief.
Visualization is a technique often touted by sports psychologists because of its proven effectiveness in helping a runner achieve his or her goals. In the weeks and months leading up to a race, runners should visualize themselves at various points on the course doing positive things, in as great of detail as possible. For instance, a marathoner might visualize him or herself standing at the starting line of the race, wearing the exact same clothes he or she plans to wear on race day. The visualization would include feeling strong and confident. In the beginning miles, the runner should visualize the feeling of strength and following the race plan set forth, while also feeling energized for the long road ahead. Contrary to popular belief, it is recommended to also visualize negative aspects of the race, such as feeling discomfort or struggling during the middle miles, but to then visualize bringing yourself away from the negativity and rising above it, stronger than before. Finally, visualize yourself crossing the finish line with the clock reading your goal time, and how good it will feel to finish. This strategy is so important, that many elites even schedule visualization into their daily training regime!