Mental Game: Teacher to Student back to Teacher

As I start my journey once again back from injury every word I ever spoke to athletes on the mental game came back to haunt me.

I went on a four mile run a couple days ago. I wanted a good effort. My goal was a tempo run pace of 7:00/mile (about right for my current condition) for three miles then go easy the last mile. I hit my first mile controlled in 6:59 but by 1.5 miles I had to become much more intentional with my effort and focus. My breathing was labored and shallow. My exercise induced asthma was in play but not as bad as it could be. (Everything is in bloom down here in the desert.)

I started bargaining with myself: “Well, if I can just hang in there for two miles it’ll be a good run.”

Something popped in my head: “What would I be telling my runners in a similar situation?”

First, have the best bad day possible. Learn to be tough.
Second, how I train (mentally and physically) so will I race. Tough patches in running need specific focus. Practice it so you can do it in a race.
Third, feeling discomfort does not mean you cannot continue. Learn to continue even with the discomfort.

I decided to first focus on my form. Run light. Run controlled. Work arms rhythmically. Keep stride fluid and as mechanical as possible like a metronome.

I passed through two miles in 14:10. I lost a bit around that 1.5 mile mark and had to get back on it. I had one more mile and I didn’t want the attitude of “just hang in there.” That is a survivor attitude versus a competitive race attitude. I want to groom and foster a competitive mindset.

The last mile, I repeated several key phrases for me: “Stay strong”, “stay on it”, “Be strong”, “run tall.” Each of these keep my thoughts focused on running the way I want to run – not only in practice but in races. Each time I felt some letting up and my upper body slouch a bit I repeated “run tall.” These phrases, assertions if you will, kept my mind from wandering to my wheezing lungs and progressively deadening legs.

The thought patterns did not eliminate the objective fact that I was under some physical stress. It did not make me breathe better. It did not suddenly bring life to my legs. However, by keeping control of my thoughts it did allow me to optimize my efforts. I did not start that endless spiral of negative thinking that dooms runs.

I didn’t think of all the awful things I was feeling and how much worse they could get and how I might slow down as a result and that it would just end up a terrible run and I’ll end up coughing for 30 minutes afterward and I’m going to be so sore from this and I shouldn’t have even gone out for a run anyway. (Get the idea?)

It did allow me to run tough. It did allow me to practice how I want to race – not give in and not give up. It allowed me to have the best bad day possible. (Oh ya, by the way, my third mile was 6:21. But I only knew I was focusing on being strong. I did NOT intentionally pick up the pace.)

So, much as I recite to many of you these very things… I too must apply them. From teacher to student and back to teacher I hope you see we all have to work at this and it doesn’t happen by magic.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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4 Responses to Mental Game: Teacher to Student back to Teacher

  1. Christina says:

    Great post. I too often run in my comfort zone, which does not allow me to push myself. I need to learn the self talk to “stay strong”. In the Tuscon marathon in the last two miles I quit. yes, I kept running but I had quit. I need to work on the self talk during each run and practice what I need to have happen during my next marathon. Honestly, I don’t know how to do it but I do know that if I can become aware of my thoughts during a run that I can then make small shifts and remember to practice positive self talk.

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Awareness is in fact the first step. If you don’t know what you are thinking how can you change it? If you don’t know what to think instead, how can you practice it?

    You are right on… little steps DO make a difference. But notice it’s not just positive thinking and Pollyanna thinking – “all is well even though I’m bleeding to death.” Instead find that word or phrase that has meaning to you that stimulates you, energizes you and keeps your mind on cues in the “now.” The next step is the only thing you control, and that is where your mind must go.

    Upward and onward!

  3. Justine says:

    This is a great post for me right now. I’ve been having some “everything hurts” issues that I’m in physical therapy for, and while everything IS feeling better, running is often physically more uncomfortable than I like. I recently dropped a training routine because it was turning every run into an effort that left me feeling defeated; my running confidence had fled the premises. But, I’ve kept my track sessions, which are hard but not too hard that I never experience success. I’ve altered my long run so that the goal is just to run long and enjoy the journey. Mentally, I’m working back up to a shorter run, with a harder effort. taht short/hard run is my weakness mentally and physically. I’ll keep your third point in mind, and work on focusing on a positive phrase.

    Finally, I have to say it’s nice to hear you have these runs and issues. Many times my inner dialog turns to: IF you were a fast/real/good runner THEN you wouldn’t hurt/be wheezing/have dead legs. It’s easy to think that every run is wonderful for someone else.

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    Oh my… I wish I could tell you how often and how many days I’ve had that I just wish would end. Just ask my brother… he knows first hand.

    Keep working it. Just like physical training… the mind takes time to condition. It is not an overnight thing. But it is progressive if you keep practicing.

    But, a myth that gets perpetuated is that good (even elite) runners don’t have bad days. They most certainly do! It’s just that they take them more in stride (pun intended) and can mentally rebound. They do not color their worlds by a few bad runs. They use those opportunities for mental game development.

    We only see the great times and results… therefore we think it all came easy for them. Not so. Not so. The fact is that one reason we’re reading about these great results is that they in fact fought though those bad days better than most others. They didn’t give in. They turned those runs into mental training days if nothing else.

    Keep on working on thinking better. It WILL payoff.

    Upward and onward!

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