Integrating the Mental Game of Running

One of the most common requests I get is “how do i integrate the mental part of running” in everyday training. In fact in a recent survey that was #2 most common request. I’ll run a series of articles on just how to do that over the coming weeks. But, I want to start with an invitation to you! No single person has all the answers or variety in addressing this issue – or any mental game issue for that matter. So, I would like your comments and emails on how YOU integrate mental game aspects into your daily training. I believe we can all learn from each other.

[Some of the best ideas may end up in an upcoming publication – you may be famous!]

Integration of the mental game into training does not happen by chance or “just cuz”. It must be purposeful. Some of you do not have written training plans. You run how you feel that day and have a vague idea of perhaps gradually running further in order to prepare for a marathon or go a bit faster sometimes to run a 5K or 10K better. So, how is that working for you? Similarly the mental game needs a plan in order to become more effective and actually show improvement. If your approach to the mental game is the same as your training – the results will reflect it (good or bad). If you don’t practice it; it WILL NOT MAGICALLY SHOW UP on race day.

You will not be mentally tough in a race if you haven’t been in practice.
You will not be focused in races if you haven’t practiced it in training.
You will not be “in the moment” if you don’t practice it in training.
You will not be ready to “execute” or “race” if you have not rehearsed a race plan.
You will not magically turn off all negative self talk in a race if you haven’t mastered doing this in training.
You will not work through rough patches in a race if you haven’t done so in training.

Case Study – Do as I say and as I Do!
I’m returning to health and running. I have a plan. I also know a year’s inactivity won’t be overcome overnight. I did a 4 mile run yesterday; 100F (I’m heat acclimated but this is still warm.) I knew I wanted to run 4 relaxed, steady and not die off at the end. I ran without looking at my watch the entire run. Why? Because I know that if I’m on the slow side it is harder for me to fight off negative thoughts – especially early in my training. (I know myself!)

I had a goal to run 7:45s without dying at the end. My key phrase or cue words were “smooth”, “relax” arms and shoulders “feel the rhythm” and “no effort just run.”

Though my mind flashes forward (“oh if I could just keep this pace it means I could run 3:20 for a marathon”) and backward (“this used to be so easy; I could run 30 miles at this pace at one time…”). I recognize that this fluidity of focus is normal. The most important thing is to recognize when you drift off and are not thinking constructive thoughts; stop thoughts that aren’t in the here and now; then refocus on your cue words and thoughts.

So this is an important learning point: focus is NOT a perfect or stagnant thing.. it moves and changes… you need to recognize when it is not a helpful focus (past and future or negative) and then have a strategy to get you back on track. Perfectionistic oriented people have the hardest time with this. Recognize, Regroup, Refocus. Do not let a lapse in focus through your whole run or race off.

From the beginning I knew that I needed to find my rhythm. I also knew it would get harder as the run progressed; fatigue wreaks havoc on focus and this is the time to PRACTICE IT! I kept refocusing on rhythm – turnover – and the same stride length and rate. Indeed breathing was harder last mile but took mind off that and back to the rhythm. I never did look at my watch. I ended averaging 7:32 per mile.

Better yet, I felt great about a successful run. I was mentally strong and feel like doing more versus defeated. I KNOW this pace is very pedestrian for ME. I also know I have to deal with today and not yesterday. I choose not to dwell on something that could escalate into a negative interpretation of the performance. It was just a performance. One that is one block in laying the foundation of mental toughness.

Would you like YOUR idea or technique or approach a part of my next mental game product? Drop a line to me or add you comment here. You might just end up published!


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 Integrating the Mental Game of Running

  1. jim says:

    nice job on the 4 miler. My mental aspect on training has certainly changed over the years. I can still motivate and push myself…when I want to. That is the big point…when I want to. Alot of times I just dont want to push myself. However, when I do, I push myself as hard or harder than I did ” in the old days”. At least it feels harder than the old days. Here is how I work out my weekly training plan. I know about how many miles I want to run for the week, and I know I want one longer run, and one run that is faster paced than my normal runs. That is my platform for training. How I go about that now is all by feel. How do I feel on any particular day dictates how I will run that day. So, just because wednesday is speed work day for most people, if I dont feel good on that day…no speed work. If I feel good on a saturday, which would normally be the day before a longer run, I will take advantage of that feel good day and run fast. If I have to move my longer run to another be it. I am not a slave to a schedule, but I still but the basic workouts in every week.

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Your running mental approach is serving you well though. You aren’t in the competitive modes of the past. Yet, you take advantage of pushing on the optimal day of the week… whatever that happens to be. That flexibility should not be confused with skipping workouts, wimping out or having a weak mental game. You still have a focus every week and work towards accomplishing you workout goals. When it comes to the faster stuff; I’m with you at this point. I want to feel good enough to do it. I love it and I do it. And when I do it; I do it with purpose. As I get back into shape I’ll progress but regardless of pace on these I do work on “staying strong” and “completing” the workouts. I know this will build my conditioning faster.

  3. Christina says:

    This is a powerful paragraph

    “Though my mind flashes forward (”oh if I could just keep this pace it means I could run 3:20 for a marathon”) and backward (”this used to be so easy; I could run 30 miles at this pace at one time…”). I recognize that this fluidity of focus is normal. The most important thing is to recognize when you drift off and are not thinking constructive thoughts; stop thoughts that aren’t in the here and now; then refocus on your cue words and thoughts.”

    I so often beat myself up for not doing it right but you’re right, it is normal and recognizing it and then refocusing is part of the process.

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    Yup.. takes practice to do it.. won’t happen automatically… I work on it almost daily!!!

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