Mental training for runners

Brain training for runners

The list of physical benefits of exercise – and running in particular – is a long one.  If you’re looking for a reason you should run, you don’t have to look far to find positive physiological reasons. More and more studies are researching changes that occur in the brain as a result of running. Today, we know a few of the positive effects include more brain connectivity, improved cognitive function, greater chemical messenger changes, new neuron growth, more regulated emotions, and a boost in your ability to learn.  We know our mind and bodies benefit from running, but can our running also benefit from brain training?

What percentage of running do you believe is mental and what percentage of running do you believe is physical?  If you answered even 1 percent is mental, then we need to learn how our run performance can benefit from mental strength. In any structured training regimen, some workout sessions are harder than others and it varies from day to day.Often when the session is difficult physically, it becomes difficult mentally. On the flip side, when we feel good, we generally run well. So, how do you turn a difficult day into a better day and what is your mental training strategy? Here are five ideas to consider:

Have a routine

A difficult training session can mentally prepare you for challenges you may face on race days. Having a routine you go through on your structured hard days that can be implemented on race days may calm some nerves. Part of this technique is recognizing what is a superstition and what is a routine. A routine is something that truly prepares your mind and body for running. The way you fuel your body, your warm up routine, and your visualization methods are examples of routines. Putting on your socks and shoes in a certain order, having a special pair of shorts for race day, or pinning on your bib in a certain way would be considered superstitions. That doesn’t mean those things should be ignored as they do play into the psyche but try keeping your training day preparation the same as race day preparation to decrease some nerves and stress.

Replace negative thoughts

Our minds can only think of one thing at a time. When a negative thought enters your mind, replace it with something positive. I heard a woman say that she took the time to make a list of every negative thought she could remember entering her mind as she ran, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed. Next to each damaging self-spoken comment she wrote a positive comment next to it. When she ran, she then had something uplifting to replace the degrading thoughts.

Repeat your running mantra

Maybe you have a favorite quote, an upbeat song, or a couple of words you really like. When running gets hard, you can repeat those words in your mind to gain that strength you need. Sometimes it’s a simple reminder as to why you are out there that day. One client has a bracelet she runs with that says something to the effect of, “You are doing this for you, to become your best self.” When she gets discouraged she can feel, see, and read those words and find the motivation to push it a little farther.

Turn your weaknesses into your strengths

Do you struggle through the last third of the race? Do you hate hills? Do you dread the wind? Find a way to change those weaknesses into something you can enjoy. For example, “the last third of the race is hard, but I love knowing I can overcome that desire to quit.” Or, “I love the strength I get from the natural resistance of hills or wind. This is what makes me a better runner.” A slight twist in your perspective may make all the difference.

Just get started

Okay, I know it’s easier said than done! Find a partner. Make a plan. Set a time. Get a coach. Pick a race. Treat yourself when you succeed. The first few weeks are the hardest, but once you get into the routine again, you’ll start reaching those goals.    

The psychology of the sport of running is something that cannot be taken lightly or for granted. Hopefully these ideas will help you become mentally stronger so you can continue to become physically stronger.