What do you learn from a mental game coach?

I am often asked something to the effect of “exactly what do you do anyway?” And “What can a mental game coach teach me?”

Here is a response from one of my high school athletes. She completed my Runner’s Mental Game Program.

1. What were your expectations about working with me before the first session? Before my first session, I was expecting improvements of my mental game, but I knew from an article I read in Runner’s World that it would not all be at once and that it would take time. The article also gave me an idea of what the teaching material would be like as well as Dean’s expertise.

2. Were your expectations met? My expectations were surpassed. I made more than just improvements on my mental game, I made leaps. Dean explains the material in a way that you are able to understand and gives you exactly how to put it into practice. I was amazed at how effective the mental game strategies were becoming to me in my sport. I improved my performance more than I thought possible beforehand.

3. What information or lessons did you find most helpful about your session with Dean? The lessons I found most helpful in my sessions with Dean were the confidence building, creation of the pre-competition routine, and controlling the controllables lessons. The confidence building lesson showed me the importance of believing in yourself and that you truly can accomplish any goal if you have to confidence that you can. Confidence was an area I struggled with and the lessons with Dean really helped me in this area. The creation of the pre-competition routine was something I would never have thought of doing but has made such an enormous impact on my mental game before races. It allowed me to create a step-by-step process that keeps my mind focused on the task at hand in order to perform my best. Worrying about races is something I still do to this day. But being able to refocus my mind on controlling the controllables brings me to ease and helps calm my nerves. All of these things have shaped me into a mentally strong runner thanks to Dean.

4. What did you specifically learn that will help you become a better performer or athlete? Going along with my earlier answer, things I learned specifically that have helped me become a better performer includes the 3 R’s- Recognize, Regroup, and Refocus. This process helps you to start to recognize your own negative thoughts then gives you a way of refocusing those thoughts on the items learned in lessons. I also learned visualization techniques that have been scientifically proven to help performance due to the self-fulfilling prophecy. This means that if you continually tell yourself something will happen, your mind and body will help you make that happen. I also learned several strategies that prepare you to achieve a breakthrough performance by going out of your comfort zone. The importance of goal setting and all the different variations of goals, including long-term, short-term, and process goals, is something that has made me a smarter athlete, and a better one in the end. The most important things I learned were phrases to say to myself to keep my self-talk positive and my mind on the right track. These are among the many things I have learned that have made me a better performer.

5. What was your biggest challenge in improving your mental game? My biggest challenge in improving my mental game was gaining confidence. This was one of the main things I struggled with in my sport for a long time, so naturally it was one of the hardest aspects of my mentality to adjust. Dean taught me exactly what I needed to readjust my thoughts and without even noticing I was thinking differently and believed in myself more than ever.

6. Would you recommend Dean as a mental game coach?  I highly recommend Dean as a mental game coach. Dean targets the exact areas of your mental game that need to be improved and provides an individualized approach to the problem. He presents the solution in a way that you are able to understand. If one way doesn’t work, he comes up with another way to help you with the mental aspect you are struggling with. He treats you just like a real coach would and is always there for you whether you need advice, support, a confidence-boost, or someone to celebrate your successes with. His bubbly personality makes the lessons fun and more relatable too. The benefits I have received from having Dean as a mental game coach were more than I could ask for and I highly recommend him to anyone.

So there you go. That’s what I do and what you can learn. If you are interested, drop me a line. Summer is the perfect time for Fall cross-country runners to learn and practice these skills!

Posted in Running | Leave a comment

Dreadmills aka Treadmills – Great Resource

Love them or hate them (dreadmills). Essential to surviving your winters in some semblance of fitness in the north; and ditto to surviving summers in the scorching summers in the southwest. Treadmills.

I did a 10 mile run on a treadmill once. That was more than enough for me. Did you know there is a treadmill marathon record (2:21:40)?  Or you could run fast on a treadmill (4:00 mile)?

You can read all you want about if treadmill running does or does not mimic running on the roads. You can apply the common 1% grade to runs to “make up for” road effects (A trainer in the article quotes 2% – but this is redundant of the original recommendation of 1%. Certainly change it up for biggest benefits.). In the end, if you are looking to maintain your conditioning at times when it is not convenient to run outside (too hot, dark, cold, rainy, snowy, dangerous, etc.) then a treadmill is an essential tool.

As you can read in this one-stop shopping website review, the array of treadmills and options and bells and whistles can be daunting. It’s nice if you can use your local gym treadmill. The convenience of owning one however may be just the ticket to consistency in your training. (And it removes one more excuse/barrier to getting your workout done… driving to the gym.)

The bottom-line on a treadmill is to get what you will use. Regardless of virtual reality runs and other bells and whistles, if you don’t use it then it doesn’t matter. Save your money.

I think they did a nice job of sifting through all the treadmills and explaining their criteria. Take a look before you buy your next treadmill!

Need a treadmill training program? Drop me a line. I can design an entire program to get you from that starting line to the finish line – training just on a treadmill.

Posted in Excuses not to run, Mental Toughness, Motivation, Running, Treadmill | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fit or Fast

Most runners harbor some goal of running faster. Some want to go longer but even then most want to do something faster than what they’ve run in the past. One problem is that you can be fit and not fast but you really cannot be fast without being fit.

Being fast is context specific. Fast is relative to a person. One runner’s fast may not be another’s. Fast is also relative to a specific race. Fast for a mile is not the same fast for a marathon. Of course within that continuum of fastness is the genetic component. Sprinters are different than distance runners. Fast is about propelling your body over a given distance in a specific time – it’s not about merely covering or completing the distance. So if you have a time goal (versus finishing goal) then you are talking about getting faster.

Goal #1: In order to be fast (or faster) first get fit.

To be fast, one first must be fit. Fitness from a running stand point includes but is not limited to:

  • consistency in training (no extensive time off)
  • adequate miles (after all it is running – it is aerobic)
  • variety in training to balance running (trails, hills, track, long, short, recovery/rest days)
  • positive health status (no injuries, not in midst of rehabbing, no nagging conditions)

There are many fit people out there. There are many runners who are fit out there. But there are also many runners who are not fit. Just ask around and you’ll see: wide variations in training consistency due to work/life/travel/obligations; minimal miles, lingering aches and pains, running with various overuse symptoms, etc. Any of those sound familiar?

Goal #2: Specialize! Focus on a single race distance to get fast.

To get fast you have to specialize. A novice runner may indeed improve at all distances simultaneously. From couch potato to any running at all will yield improvements at all distances. It’s low hanging fruit!

It is unlikely you will improve your 5K PR by training for a marathon (though you will be fit and fast for that marathon). It is unlikely to set PRs in a half-marathon if you are training for 5Ks. You must do some workouts at your goal race paces and faster. And this is the very problem that most age group runners face. They race many distances during the year with equal emphasis on all of them. The training yields a decent “generalist” – good at many distances. These runners are very fit and reasonably fast. But this runner will seldom achieve their full potential at any single distance. And given two equally talented runners, the specialist is the one who will run faster times in that focused distance.

Goal#3: Start running fast!

Finally, if you want to run fast then you have to run fast. Slow running has its place in a well-rounded training program. However, if you want to go faster than what you are now, then you have to run fast. It’s neuromuscular specific. Running your same 4 mile loop five times a week at the same pace and running your easy weekend 10 miler will not make you fast! It’s time to turbo charge your training and infuse it with up-tempo runs. [Caveat: too much too soon will get you injured; it’s best to get a coach to design a progressive program for you.]

How fast you might ask? Over time you should explore a wide variety of paces and your speed work should eventually infuse even near all-out efforts over very short distances.

Need help putting a plan together? Drop me a line.

 

Posted in Challenge, High Intensity Interval Training, HIIT, Motivation, Pacing & Running, Running, Training Effectiveness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mental Toughness and Patience

Mental toughness most often described as that ability to push through pain or discomfort or to hang in there when the going gets tough. But mental toughness is not that narrow of a construct. One other form or aspect of mental toughness is patience.

Patience requires discipline. Patience requires focusing on the right things at the right time. Patience infers delayed gratification. Patience is key to successful careers, seasons and competitions. Patience can be learned.

Forcing training and competitions before you are ready as an athlete can greatly retard your growth as an athlete. For instance, high school athletes should not be attempting college or elite level training programs. It’s easy for young athletes to read about what elite level athletes do and attempt to mimic them. They do not have the patience to accept incremental progression over time. Instead they get injuries and burnout in return.

Every athlete would like to improve season to season. (Many want to improve in every single competition!) So many youth through college athletes I have worked with expect to start seasons with PR level performances. Though when we are young, the maturation process alone may carry us to PRs at the start of new grade levels the error is in thinking this will continue throughout high school or college (or beyond). Patience is required to follow seasonal and year round training programs. If you are setting PRs in your first competition of the season – the odds are that you will be peaking and plateauing long before that championship competition.

Patience must be exercised in following phases of training in which there is a stair-step approach to development. It also requires patience to stick with it when development lags from time to time. Improvement in sports performance is not linear. Development is more like a roller coaster as your body adapts to new levels of training stress.

Patience is required to compete. Following a pacing plan for instance requires that you run your race – and not someone else’s. Patience is required early in races when you feel so good you want to go faster than what you’ve trained for. A recent example was when Galen Rupp got anxious during the US Olympic marathon trials this past February. Rupp took the lead with 7 miles to go but Coach Salazar reined him in. Under such hot conditions it was too early to go. Rupp later admitted his coach was right because he indeed was starting to cramp up towards the end. What may have preserved Rupp’s victory – and avoid a potentially race ending cramp – was a coach reminding him to be patient.

By nature, most of the athletes I work with are highly motivated, competitive – and they want success now. Following a well-designed training program, practicing patience as part of mental toughness and having a coach to remind you is the surest route to that success.

Need help with your performances? Drop me a line.

Posted in College Running, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Patience, Sports Psychology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Running Form Shaming?

It’s a treat for the everyday runner to get the opportunity to watch elite runners in person. It’s not the same watching on TV or online. Their power, grace, determination and talent are ar more inspiring in person.

Ever since returning from LA watching the US Olympic marathon trials last week, I’ve replayed the images of the over 300 men and women who competed that morning. I am struck however by something beyond how fast they run compared to the rest of us mortals (men at five minute miles and women in low to mid-five minute range – for 26.2 miles). Running form.

I noticed that among these elite athletes – arguable the absolute top couple hundred US distance runners – male and female; the wide variety of running form. And just as with the millions of everyday runners, there were the heel strikers, forefoot strikers, mid-foot strikers. There were motionless upper bodies with arm swaying uppers; low arm carriers and high arm carriers; shuffling strides and bouncy middle distance track-like strides; upright postures to more forward leans; feet that tracked in perfect straight lines to those that splayed outward and some with loping long strides (for their height) – to short choppy strides. Yes, there are some who may epitomize what most runners view as a “perfect” form. You could point to Galen, Meb, Shalane or Amy (and perhaps to that runner in your club or on the street you see).

The one thing however that unites every one of those elite runners is not running form. Discipline. Hard work. Dedication. Pain tolerance. A mindset to do what it takes to optimize their own genetic talents and not to run like someone else.

Coaches (including myself), runners, physical therapists, biomechanists often simply get too technical. The #1 controllable difference between everyday/age group runners and elite runners is the fact that they are highly trained specifically for their event. It is not their running form. Great running form minus great training yields slow racing. They train better. They have comprehensive year round training programs. They train specifically for their event (not every weekend race that pops up).

My take-away: If you want to be a faster runner then focus on training better to become a better runner. Stop trying to become someone else. Stop comparing your running form to someone else’s. Stop trying to make your running form like someone else’s. Optimize YOU.

[As an aside: I’ll give a nod to #1 difference being genetics. Even if we trained like elite runners most of us would never be as fast as them.]

Need help reaching your goals? Running faster? Drop me a line.

Posted in Goal Setting, Marathon, Running, The Running Life - Philosophy, Youth Athletes, Youth Running | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Coaches, parents, runners – who needs mental game training more?

I’ve seen a lot over my years of coaching youth runners, directing running camps, working with parents and other coaches. I have indeed seen the proverbial good, the bad and the ugly. In almost every case there is no malice or evil intent. But we (coaches, parents) tend to repeat what we’ve seen, been taught or experienced in life – effective or not. And so it is with coaching and managing youth runners and their mental game.

Coaches and parents often give lip service to mental game training (mental toughness training, applied sports psychology – choose your term); more conversationally it’s hidden in the terms: motivation, discipline, confidence, focus, social comparison, composure under pressure, persistence, team building (and many more). Ask any coach, parent or athlete and they will most often state that athletics are 30%, 50%, 80% or more mental. If in fact it is this important, why isn’t 30, 50 or 80 percent of all training integrate mental game training as well? One issue is that some coaches and parents perceive mental toughness as you either have it or you don’t …which is completely untrue. My perception is that mental game skills are great to talk about but practical integration into any program is an afterthought if any thought at all.


 

Sometimes you need data to support what you think you know. Over the past year I spent time analyzing and quantifying results from hundreds of mental game assessments (from youth runners) that I have amassed.

The results were more striking than I originally thought. The data clearly supports a need for mental game training and integration for youth runners (all sports for that matter). The question is how do we get this to happen!

Want a copy of my white paper on the mental game and youth runners? Get your copy here. I’d love to hear your comments and observations on the topic.

Want to see where you stack up on mental game skills? For the next month I’ll process your assessment and report for only $150 (regularly $250).

Drop me a line. I’ll send you my proprietary assessment (M4PAASS) and then produce a comprehensive personalized report for you with your game plan to fortify your own mental game. 

Posted in aqua running, Blogroll, Challenge, College Running, Confidence, Cramps, Excuses not to run, Exercise Research, focus, Goal Setting, Heat Training, High Intensity Interval Training, HIIT, Illness and Running, Lyme Disease, Marathon, Mental Game, Mental Game Boot Camp, Mental Toughness, Mobile App, Motivation, Muscle Cramps, Pacing & Running, Plantar Wart, Pre-performance Routine, Racing Flats, Range of Motion, Running, Running & Diet, Running Camps, Running Humor, Running Records, Running Shoes, Running Streaks, Sports Psychology, Stretching, The Running Life - Philosophy, Track and Field, Track Terminology, Training Effectiveness, Ultra-Marathon, Youth Athletes, Youth Running | 1 Comment

I perform well when…

How often do you say something like the following:

  • I do better when I’m the underdog.
  • I do better when I come from behind.
  • I do better when no one expects me to do well.
  • I do better when I lead.
  • I do better when it’s a tough course.
  • I do better in cold/hot/wet/dry (you name the conditions).

Corollaries:

  • I don’t do well on wet surfaces.
  • I don’t do well on courses with lots of turns.
  • I don’t do well performing on the road.
  • I don’t do well on loop courses.

On one hand it is good to know your strengths. On the other hand, it opens the door to mental game weaknesses. And here is why.

Anytime your self talk, self labels and self descriptions indicate that you can only do your best under certain conditions then by default it also defines when you believe that you do not do well. This becomes an expectation (consciously or subconsciously) about your ability to perform.

The goal is to be able to do your best regardless of the conditions or situation. Let’s be clear, doing your “best” doesn’t mean setting personal records. It means you give 100% from start to finish regardless of the situation. You do not let the circumstances seep into your psyche and adversely effect your performance – promoting that possibility of a let down or anything less than a 100% effort sans doubts.

What we tell ourselves (even if never spoken to others) is powerful. Often these things become self-fulfilling prophecies. Countering these beliefs starts in training. You must integrate mental and physical training. Address your weaknesses by doing what you don’t do well in practice. If you don’t like loop courses and you know your big race is on a loop course then practice running on a loop course. While doing this, rehearse your mental game plan (what do you tell yourself on loop #1, #2…; what specifically do you do to stay fully in the moment and not thinking of multiple loops; how do you mentally break up the course into chunks to handle it best).

Need help attacking your limiting beliefs? Why continue to limit your performance potential? Drop me a line. It only takes 2-3 sessions – we’ll master it! 

Posted in Challenge, focus, Goal Setting, Marathon, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Pacing & Running, Running, Sports Psychology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment