You can log every single run in your training plan perfectly, but if you are not a mentally strong runner, you will struggle to achieve your goals on race day. This month’s Run It Round Up brings you a different type of workout to make you a stronger runner – mental workouts for runners. Today you will find tips from five other running bloggers and me about mental workouts we use to strengthen the mind for when the miles are challenging.
Dedicate the Miles
The pain of racing or a hard workout hurts. Your muscles ache in places you never quite realized they could ache, while your brain pleads with you to stop now. Racing is a self-inflicted suffering and what helps is to dismiss the notion that all suffering is intrinsically bad. Some suffering is evil, but other types of suffering work towards a good end (such as childbirth or running a marathon).
An effective method for coping with suffering is finding meaning in the pain. Dedicate those hard miles to someone you care about or offer up the uncomfortable miles as a prayer. This can be as spiritual as you choose to make it, but this technique will both distract your mind from the pain and give you a reason to keep pushing when everything hurts.
Bracing is what I like to think of as realistic visualization. Visualization can be tricky, because can visualize a marathon feeling like sunshine and rainbows all you want, but it will never feel that way. If someone tells you that racing at all-out effort for any distance does not hurt at some point, they are either lying or suffering from endorphin-induced amnesia. Whether it’s a mile race or a marathon, there will be miles in every race, usually near the end, where your muscles hurt and you want to slow down or stop.
When preparing for a race and visualizing yourself on the course, include these miles. Anticipate that there will be miles that are hard and visualize how you will respond to them. Rehearse mantras, imagine yourself pushing through without slowing down, and being proud of yourself at the finish line for not making the choice to give up.
Control What You Can
Running hard can be intimidating because you feel out of control once the lungs begin to burn and the stomach begins to turn. Regaining control over the run will make you a mentally stronger runner. The next time you begin to feel out of control during a race, focus on what you can control. Count your inhales and exhales to regulate your breathing, count your steps to focus on your cadence, or focus on passing the runner in front of you – all things within your control.
Train Your Mind and Body Together
In order to become a mentally stronger runner in racing, you must practice it in training. These mental workouts for runners combine a specific training stimulus – intervals, long run, etc. – with the mental demands of staying comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Embrace-the-Pain Long Run
The most mentally (and physically) challenging section of a race are the final few miles, when everything hurts yet the finish line is not in sight. Progression long runs let you practice the grueling finish of a race in training and know how to mentally cope with the burning discomfort of the end of the race (without the physical toll of racing). Add a few miles at goal race pace to the end of a long run every couple weeks, gradually increasing the distance until you can do 8-10 miles at marathon pace at the end of a long run or 4-6 miles at half marathon pace at the end of a long run.
If you commonly slow down at the end of a 5K or 10K, this is workout will help you mentally endure the discomfort of the end of a short and fast race. This workout applies a simple twist to your normal speed workout. During a set of intervals on the road or track, run the second-to-last interval harder than the rest (hammer it out, hence the name). For example, if you are running 8 x 2 minutes at 5K pace, attempt to run the 7th interval at 3K or even mile pace. You will still have to run the final interval at 5K pace, which makes the last two intervals of this run very hard.
Your Least Favorite Running Workout
A majority of your training runs are catered to your strengths, but the workout that scares you will make you more resilient. Do a set of hill repeats or a continuous tempo run – whatever workout always makes you nervous to see on your plan.
Such a strategy may sound sadistic, but you will learn two valuable aspects of mental strength. The first is that you can push through discomfort and keep going. The second is that a run or a race is only as intimidating as you let it be and that you are in control of the run – not vice versa.
Want more tips on how to become more mentally comfortable with being physically uncomfortable? Of course you do! Check out my fellow Run It bloggers’ mental workouts for runners!
Allie shares how mental toughness can sometimes mean choosing not to race:
Sarah has three tips to help you become a mentally stronger runner:
Carly provides key mental workouts, including visualization:
Angela shares her favorite mental workouts for runners:
You can find past posts from the Run It Round Up here:
Surviving Summer Running
Summer Hydration Tips
Treating Common Running Injuries
Best & Worst Racing Advice
Staying Sane on the Treadmill
Winter Running Gear
What’s your least favorite type of running workout?
What has helped you become a mentally stronger runner?