Before I launched into this latest training cycle, my first “official” one in more than a year, I decided a big focus for me would be improving positive thinking and mental toughness. As the cliche for our sport goes, running is 10% physical and 90% mental. While I think that ratio is just slightly skewed, it does show the importance of training your mental muscle as well as your physical ones.
My first couple weeks of training I spent a bit of time reading some articles about running and mental toughness, especially as it relates to the marathon (see the end of this post for links to some of my favorites). A few common themes arose that I’ve already put into practice:
- Visualization: The concept of thinking about your runs before they happen is an interesting one – you’re basically tapping into your imagination to project the movie of a run or workout in your mind. Without realizing it, I did this a lot before my first two half marathons. The night before my long runs, I’d take some time before falling asleep where I’d play out how well my run the next day would go. I’d think about the route, imagine how my legs would feel, and focus on what I’d do to push through fatigue. Somehow, as I became more knowledgeable about training and running, I stopped practicing visualization, and I can say I had fewer amazing long runs than when I was using visualization techniques. This is something I’ve brought back into my training.
- Mantras: Every runner I know has some (or several) mantras that they recite when a run or race gets tough. To me, the repetitive nature of running makes mantras so successful in helping distract the mind from discomfort. I have a handful of little sayings that I turn to when I’m pushing through a less-than-perfect run, but I’ve also realized that there are other little tricks I can play on myself to keep me moving. Now, when I recite a mantra in my head, I tell myself I have to speed up my cadence slightly. This has been very helpful in keeping me from slowing down for no real reason other than I’m feeling slightly fatigued or hot.
- Moving to Positive Thinking: One of the posts I read talked about envisioning a big STOP sign when negative thoughts creep in, and I’ve found this incredibly helpful. I used to find myself dreading tempo runs and would spend the whole day focusing on how hard they would be and how I didn’t want to do them. Now, I’ve shifted my thinking to be more along these lines: “This tempo run is going to be hard, and I am so excited to put in the work that will make me stronger for my race. I can’t wait to run fast tonight and see if I can beat my times from last week!” Anyone who knows me knows my running nemesis is humidity. For someone who grew up in Florida and lived in the swamp that is D.C., I have never gotten used to humidity or the negative impact it can have on performance. My first couple of summers back in Florida, I’d spend giving up on hard running once the humidity increased. Instead on fixating on weather I can’t control, I’m focusing on how it’s making me a stronger runner who can push herself in tough conditions.
That last theme is the main reason why I’ve started recording what I’m calling my “Three Wins” every week: I pick the top three highlights from the past week of training and jot them down in my training log. My plan is to read through these when it comes time to taper so that I remember the joy I found through the process of getting to that starting line come November. It’s all about embracing positive thinking to build mental toughness!
This Week’s Three Wins
- I had a great run with good friends (Hi, Tori!) this morning. We got in 6 waterfront miles as the sun rose and managed to negative split the whole run, despite the 89% humidity.
- With quite a few plans on Memorial Day, I moved my tempo run to Wednesday. Due to a conflict, I had to take to the treadmill to get my workout in which is less-than-ideal since I hate treadmills. I sucked it up, and powered through my tempo run with perfectly even splits, making me really glad I didn’t blow off the run when it would have been pretty easy to do so.
- My boyfriend is here visiting from LA, which makes it hard to stick with a routine. Though I shifted around some workouts throughout the week, I still managed to get in everything that was on my training plan including a 6 AM Body Pump class that kicked my butt (…and hamstrings… and shoulders).
My Favorite Posts on Mental Toughness:
- Mental Strength and Running from Hungry Runner Girl
- The Art of Visualization by Cait Chock
- Let’s Get Hyped: 5 Strategies to Talk Yourself Up into the Running Zone by Cait Chock
- Running Mentally Engaged by Cait Chock
- Do You Have Mental Toughness? How to Train Your Brain for Your Next Race by Doug Hay, featured on Strength Running
- Long Run Mental Toughness from NYC Running Mama
- Stop the Negative Self Talk: 5 Tips to Turn It Around and Improve Performance from Live from La Quinta
What are your weekly wins or favorite mental toughness exercises? Share them with me in the comments!