Mental Training Techniques for Runners

mental trainingEveryone has heard the adage that running is 90% mental and 10% physical. For all the physical work that runners put into their training, how can they effectively work the mental side, as well? Listed below are three strategies for improving your mental training leading up to a big race.

Sports psychologists have long touted the benefits of mental training through visualization for athletes. If a person can see him or herself performing well, then he or she is more likely to do so. In fact, professional runners set aside 10 – 20 minutes per day just for visualization. The most effective way to visualize racing success is to mentally go through the race during a run.

One workout is “visualization intervals.” During a moderate workout (one that is tough, but does not require all of your mental energy in order to hit the proper splits), visualize a different portion of the race during each part of the workout. If you are racing a half marathon and running 6 x 800 m repeats, then you should use each 800 m segment to focus on the start of the race, the middle miles, running strong from miles 10 – 12, taking a flawless water stop, the final mile, and crossing the finish line.

Use your five senses, and try to incorporate what you may see, smell, taste, hear, and feel throughout your race. Keep your thoughts positive, yet be realistic with how you may be feeling. For instance, when visualizing miles 10 – 12, think about the pain you will have in your legs, but also visualize how you will overcome that feeling to pick up the pace and finish strong.

A great tool to use while training is the reframing strategy. Here, you will turn a negative thought into something positive. Often, runners get sidetracked by poor weather, a bad workout, or an uncontrollable circumstance. When a negative scenario arises, find a way to shed a positive light on the situation. For instance, instead of saying, “The weather is terrible. I hate running in the rain,” think to yourself, “I’m fortunate for the opportunity to practice running in the rain in case the weather is bad during the marathon.” Small changes such as these can make an incredible difference.

Segment your Race
On race day, there are a number of mental training tricks you can use to help you finish fast. Before the race, break the course up into segments and set a goal for each portion. For instance, if racing a 5k, choose 1k segments and have goals such as “conserve” “push” or “finish hard.” During the race, only focus on one segment at a time, and perform whatever task you assigned to each segment. If your goal was to run conservatively during the first segment, then only focus on conservation – do not think of what is coming up ahead. Then, during segment two, reset your brain to only focus on the second portion. Do not concern yourself with what happened during the first portion, or what will be coming up in the third. In this way, you can focus on being your best at each point, which will ultimately lead to a great finish!


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