Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mind over Matter

I recently found this quote:

“Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.” -Lynn Jennings

Reading it reminded me how much distance running is about your head, just as much (of not more) as it is about your legs. So why don't we spend as much time training our brains, as we spend training our legs?  In Houston Fit, we had something we did before each race called "The Blessing of the Quads".  In the blessing, we all shouted, "Legs be strong, Head be stronger!".  Again, another reminder of the importance of this.

Since the 1/2 marathon training group I am coaching will soon be conquering double digit mileage, I thought it would be a good idea to let the group know about the importance of creating a mental strategy.  After all,  in distance running, it's your head that keeps you going when your legs are tired.

Here are some things I recommended:

  1. Try Self-Talk – if you are feeling tired, try telling yourself things like "only a .5 mile to the water stop." Focus on how proud or happy you will feel when you are done. Keep the thoughts positive…rather than thinking, "I'm so tired", try thinking, "I am strong!"
  2. Create a Personal Mantra – Along the same lines as the self-talk, think of a mantra that you can repeat to yourself throughout the run. Make it something that makes you feel strong and confident. Some things I've heard people use – "Stay Strong", "I am fierce", "Just keep going", etc.
  3. Break up the run – Ever hear the saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!" Sometimes it helps to divide your long run into smaller segments. If you are running 9 miles, try to think of it as being less than three 5ks. Once I hit the 10-mile mark of a half-marathon, I often tell myself that there's only a 5k to go.
  4. Try Mental Imagery – I once heard that Olympic athletes use imagery to perfect their sport. For example, an Olympic gymnast might picture herself performing a perfect beam routine in her head. Or, a professional basketball player might imagine himself making a perfect 3-pointer over and over. Why not use this tool, too? Imagine yourself on your long run, running on the course – you are running at your goal pace with a great stride, you look strong, you are charging up that killer hill, and you feel great. I used this trick when trying to PR the Houston ½ Marathon a few years ago. I knew the lonelier stretch would be miles 10 – 12 on Allen Parkway. I envisioned myself running strong on that stretch of road with no fatigue. It must have worked, because I did PR!
  5. Channel that competitive spirit – During a race, focus on individuals in front of you and then try to pass them. You can even keep count of your "road kill" as you move forward…just don't count out loud!
  6. Identify your reward – What are you going to do to celebrate after your long run? Eat a huge burger, have a frosty, adult beverage, buy a new running outfit? Plan it out before the race, then use that as your motivation as you run. (I'll meet you at Gigi's after a race for cupcakes!)

What are some mental strategies that you've used?  I'd love to share them with my group!


Anne said...

I'd add to beware of the "Nocebo Effect" in which you convince yourself you are more sick/hurt/injured than you are. This is particuarly keen during taper phases of a marathon or big race. Then it's definitely a mind matter.

And I haven't thought of Lynn Jennings in years. She was da bomb for us early female marathoners.

K said...

Great post, Christy! Your group is lucky to have you as their coach!

Marv said...

Being a elder athlete, many of my friends, family are going through rough times physically at this stage of life. When I start to lose focus I either pray for them or compare how blessed I am to be able to do this; to self-inflict the discomfort which is temporary as opposed to those whose discomfort and pain is unrelenting. It seems easier to ignore my own hardships when I consider the hardships of others.