Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coachings. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community that specializes in providing beginner running program, half marathon running plans, workouts and more. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Get in touch with them to learn about various exercises to get faster and other advanced running tips.
Training Your Mind For Running Races
Mental toughness in running and triathlon: How to improve mental toughness
Author Alex Hutchinson defines endurance is the struggle to keep going against the mounting desire to stop.
Runners at every level have felt their bodies scream at them - you know the feeling. Maybe it’s your lungs flaring up, your calves cramping, your hip flexors tensing, or a combination of those and more. But sometimes the body just starts to rebel and say “no more.”
Mental toughness when running requires you to ask yourself if you’ve really reached your limit. Is this really the most you can give, or can you push through and give some more?
So what’s really going on here? Dr. Tim Noakes and his known Central Governor Theory offer an evolutionary theory to explain this dilemma. According to Dr. Noakes, our brains send signals to our muscles to stop before they reach their full potential.
This is a cautionary measure by the brain, which knows that working at max capacity is not sustainable. So from an evolution standpoint, staying below that maximum effort level is necessary for longevity.
We see here that the brain competes with the legs. This means that in order to increase toughness on a run, we need to train the brain, not the legs.
In order to push those mental limits a bit further, we are going to approach it like any other goal - in increments.
To increase mental toughness, we need to gradually get the brain and body used to being uncomfortable, to working at a level beyond what they are used to.
In this article we have some tips on exposure to tough conditions, motivation to keep going, and the ultimate purpose of your run. These ideas combined are guaranteed to help you increase your mental toughness, so that you learn how to run properly and control your maximum effort level on race day.
By starting small and slowly increasing that maximum effort level, our brain gets used to a new threshold. But it starts with exposure. We need to expose our body to the type of work required to improve.
So how do we introduce this exposure? A good first step is to analyze your training plan. Often times, we run the same routes or practice the same workouts, so our bodies reject anything farther or harder.
Take a look at your running program and increase the difficulty where you see patterns setting in. No need to adjust every day - these tougher workouts should be progressive, with time in between for your body to recover through rest days and normal workouts.
Mental toughness is not always about intensity, it also plays a role depending on duration, temperature, terrain, and all of those other factors that we don’t like to include in normal training.
If you’re training for an upcoming race, identify which of these will be factors on race day, and start getting your body used to tough conditions in those areas.
Exposure beforehand is the only way to train the brain to quiet down and to not send those “stop” signals to our muscles on race day.
Motivation is going to be your best friend as you work this exposure into your training. And keep it realistic. Choose one or two days out of every week where you’re going to hit it hard. Maybe one day of the week is a longer or more hilly run, and a different day of the week is a faster run.
Whatever it is, singling out those one or two days to really push yourself will help motivate you because the energy is targeted somewhere, you don’t need to keep it up 24/7.
Other people are also going to help with motivation. Partner or group training is a great way to push yourself beyond your normal threshold because there is a communal energy in the air that pushes you.
Maybe one day a week you can meet with a running club, or grab a friend and run on treadmills next to each other at the gym. But the energy of others will boost your energy, and keep you out of your head and inside your running goals.
And remember, motivation is finite. Don’t expect yourself to hit it hard and push your toughness threshold every day. Expect that on some days, you just won’t be feeling up to it. You might be feeling sick, or stressed at work, or busy with your personal life. It happens!
The best way to mitigate the effects of these obstacles is to plan for them ahead of time. Know that something will come up, and be flexible with your motivation supply.
Conversely, on days when you’re scheduled to do a harder workout, try to minimize stress in all other areas of your life just for that day so that you can get the most out of the run.
The best and most productive training happens when you run with a purpose. Running toward a goal keeps your mind on track and able to stay positive when things get tough, because you want to achieve your goal.
So in training your mental toughness, decide your purpose. Maybe it’s to run a mile without stopping, or maybe it’s to run a half marathon in a certain time. And it doesn’t even need to be that specific. Whatever it is, write it down and look at it often.
Put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. We need to see it most on the bad days, because the motivation is already present on the good days.
Remind yourself of your ultimate purpose the second things get hard or uncomfortable on your run. And remember that every time you’re able to push through those moments, you are pushing that threshold and toughening the mind by exposing the brain and body to a new level of work.
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coachees. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community that specializes in providing beginner running program, half marathon running plans, workouts and more. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Get in touch with them to learn about various exercises to get faster and other advanced running tips.
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