Mental training for runners

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Ryan 12 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #5180

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Within the topic of Randy's marathon report, he mentioned negative self talk and I suggested using some mental training to overcome this self talk and instead develop some positive self talk. Seeing as mental training is a topic that many people might be interested in, I didn't want to bury this topic in that thread where some people who might be interested in it might never see it.

    Mental training is something that can involve many different things. The most widely associated would be visualization but also things as simple as reinforcing positive self talk can be important aspects, also.

    Positive self talk can be done pretty simply. Start in training by thinking positively. Instead of thinking “Man, this workout is hard!” think “Wow, I'm doing this quite a bit faster than I was last year at this time, I'm going to tear it up in the races this year.” Instead of thinking “Wow, I'm out of shape!” think “Given where I'm coming from, I'm doing pretty well and I'm now doing what I have to do in order to get back to racing shape.” Also, think about what you're going to say to yourself during races. Plan on saying “I'm strong, I've done the training to get through this strongly and fast” instead of “My legs feel dead, am I going to make it?” Plan to remind yourself of your strengths instead of thinking of your weaknesses during your races.

    As for visualization, this is something that is more difficult to explain in a paragraph but I'll attempt. The best way to do this is to start with some relaxation techniques. Find a quiet place where you won't be distracted. Then, lay down in a comfortable position and relax your whole body, focusing on different body parts all the way from your toes to your head (or the other way around) and fully relaxing your whole body. Once fully relaxed, picture yourself at your goal race before the gun goes off. Picture yourself at different points through the whole race executing your race plan to perfection and reaching your goals. Picture yourself handling difficulties like a challenging part of the course or some tough conditions successfully. Visualize your race many times, always successfully handling obstacles that come up along the way and always reaching your goal.

    Below are a few links I found via Google. There are many more if you do a search using keywords like mental training, visualization, runner, running, or other similar words. There are also some great books on this topic. I believe Zeke has made some recommendations in the past but I am having trouble finding his recommendations. Maybe he can offer them again. I have a book called “The Mental Athlete” which I found to be pretty good. I believe the book called “The Total Runner” is also highly recommended by quite a few people.

    http://www.kemibe.com/mplatt.htm
    http://www.runquick.com/corcorn/mental.htm
    http://www.runnertriathletenews.com/features/sportspsych_sidebaraug2001.html
    http://www.runningspot.com/art_mental_walker.php
    http://www.runnersguide.co.za/Columns/Running/Tom%20and%20his%20Stuff/MindVisualization.asp
    http://www.sdxtraining.coach-site.com/articles/article/694432/5458.htm (a triathlon specific one but gives you the idea of the process)

  • #20576

    randys
    Participant

    Ryan,

    Thanks for a very helpful post. I only had time to skim a few of the articles quickly but already feel the material will be helpful.

    This site is a wealth of useful information for runners of all abilities.

    Thanks,

    Randy

  • #20577

    Chris
    Member

    I'd like to weigh in on this topic. 

    I'll just come out and say I think mental preparation is over-rated.  I'm not saying it isn't necessary to a degree, but I think many put too much time and effort into it. 

    My personl opinion is that physical preparation is far far more important.  You can rehearse a race all day in your head, but if you aren't better than an equally mentally prepared competitor you cannot win.  So train smart / race fast is how I feel. 

    I had a coach in High School that had us believing that running was 90% mental.  We took it too far and when things didn't go as planned in a race we couldn't figure out what happened.  Even my college coach tried visualization for a season or 2 then gave up on it. 

    I personally try to do some visualization and preparation during my training runs.  I think about how I'm going to race and try to prepare for everything.  Once again though, in my opinion physical preparation is still #1.  If you come in better shape than anyone you can beat everyone…period.  Train smart, eat smart, rest. 

    Now to prove that I'm always trying to be open minded about my training I'm going to read all those articles 🙂

  • #20578

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Chris, of course physical preparation comes first. However, if you take two people who are relatively equal physically, the one who is telling himself “I'm strong, this is what I've been preparing for, I know I can do it” is going to beat the one who is telling himself “My legs are really sore, I'm breathing hard, can I hold this pace?”

    Coach Hall was pretty sporadic with his visualization sessions and I thought that made them less effective than they could have been. For visualization to be effective, you really have to commit to it and do it consistently. You can't do it a few times and expect it to pay off. All it really takes is 10-15 minutes a day. If you could get an edge by devoting 10-15 minutes a day before going to bed, wouldn't you do it? I wouldn't say cut into your running time to do this but, if you can find that 10-15 minutes per day, it can help.

    BTW: The one year I remember Coach Hall using visualization with the most consistency, I remember the visualization revolving around the conference meet. That year, we as a team outperformed all expectations at conference. I'm not saying it was all about the visualization but, as I ran that race, I had supreme confidence for two reasons. First, I remember Gilly yelling at about 1.5 miles “What were all those 100 mile weeks for?” which got me into the state of mind that nobody in my immediate vicinity had prepared for that better than I had. Second, it was like I had been there before, passing whole packs of guys with Ethan right next to me. I had visualized it that way countless times already.

    However, in regards to Randy's situation, it's as much about turning that negative self talk into positive self talk as anything. This is something that doesn't really even take time away from anything else. It's simply something that takes practice, which is best done while running. It may not be as powerful as visualization but, if you can get to the 24 mile mark of your marathon or the 5 mile mark of your 10k and be telling yourself that you're strong and you're well prepared, you're likely to keep pushing through. Instead, if you're telling yourself that you're tired and you don't know if you can hang on, you're more likely to give in, shut it down, and cruise in.

    Think about it this way. Remember when we were talking about the alumni meet last year? You were once again worrying about that hill. I told you to quit dwelling on the hill that everyone has to run up and come up with a plan for how to take advantage of it. Everyone has to run up the hill. Those who dwell on how difficult it is and how it is going to ruin their race are giving it the power to ruin their race. Those who say it's part of the course and everyone has to deal with it manage it then, at the top, pass the guys who spent their time dwelling on it. This was my attempt at getting you mentally prepared for the race. I wanted you to go in there with a positive attitude about the hill because I saw your fear of that hill, not the hill itself, ruin you in past races.

    If you and I go into the alumni meet with equal fitness levels this year but you go in once again afraid of the hill while I go in with a plan to use the hill to my advantage, I'll beat you there. Not because I'm in better shape than you but because I'm mentally prepared for the task at hand and you're not.

    It's true that the mental preparation can not take the place of the physical preparation. If you're not in shape to perform, no amount of mental tricks will get you to the finish line. However, if you are in shape to perform, being prepared for the task mentally can help you get the most out of your physical abilities.

  • #20579

    Anne
    Member

    Ryan, thanks for the links.  I'll go back through tonight when I have the time to read through them.

    Chris, I agree that the physical part of training is the key to being prepared but for those who fight the battle of mental fatigue or self doubt, training yourself to be mentally strong can be a valuable tool. In previous  races I've lost the battle, the mind won.  It's a depressing, frustrating feeling.
    Through some good advice and practice I've learned to deal with being uncomfortable in those situations, I know I'll be o.k., yes I'm hurting, it's hard, I want to stop but I've learned to accept it & keep going. My running turned around when I got through that wall, I'm a different runner now, tougher, faster, more determined.
    I can run all the miles, do all the workouts but if my mind isn't willing to play the game I'm in trouble.

    I'd be interested to see how others feel about how much a factor mental strength is in their running.

  • #20580

    r-at-work
    Member

    I only have so many hours in the week to run… but there are always a few extra minutes to fit in a few 'extras' that I think help ME… one is stretching, last thing at night and then I generally do a short (2-4 minutes) of visualization before I fall asleep… I'm not saying it made a huge difference in my speed, but it certainly helped me run happier & more relaxed which I think helped me a lot…

    the problem I had  (this is last fall I'm talking about) was that prior to the marathon (I had run it twice in the previous years) I did the visualization last thing at night and would fall asleep before I got much past thinking about mile 10… my hubby joked that I'd get real sleepy about that time in the race and have to pull off for a nap… I had to change the 'scenario' a bit to get to the end of the race… I have to say the first 16 miles were almost joyous, I had done that part so many times…

    over the winter I did a stint with a sports psychologist / hypnotist and while my Tampa race was a fiasco for other reasons, the 10 miler I recently ran was so relaxed that I was surprised that it was a PR and the last mile the fastest I've EVER run in a race… I'm sure the physical preparation was important but the mental part made it FUN…

    -Rita

  • #20581

    Anne
    Member

    I've never thought about practicing visualization as part of my training for a marathon, I may have to give it a try. I do a quick run through in my mind before the race starts but that's hardly a quiet, relaxed setting. The key is probably to repeat the sequence over and over, not just a one shot deal at the starting line.

    Interesting articles Ryan, thanks.

  • #20582

    GTF
    Member

    Try these (especially the first/top one): http://taosports.com/products.html

  • #20583

    Double
    Member

    I'm in the Chris camp on this one.  Everyday training makes up a large percent of my mental training.  Actually, the more I think of it I probably do many of the things you mentioned when running.  Visualizing races, relaxation, surges, forming images around music in my head, et cetera is done running.  When I run I am constantly thinking about that run.  I really don't think about anything else unless someone is engaging me in conversation.  The day before the race I just want to relax and feel light.

  • #20584

    flightless
    Member

    Some of the most effective mental training is just doing workouts that simulate what a race will feel like.

    For example, 6-8 x 1000m at 5km pace starts to feel like a 5km on the last couple. The end of a 15 miler at marathon pace at the end of a high mileage week simulates mile 18-22 of a marathon. And so on.

    Those are the moments to work on your mental approach so that when you face the same feeling in a race you know what to do in that situation.

  • #20585

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Some of the most effective mental training is just doing workouts that simulate what a race will feel like.

    For example, 6-8 x 1000m at 5km pace starts to feel like a 5km on the last couple. The end of a 15 miler at marathon pace at the end of a high mileage week simulates mile 18-22 of a marathon. And so on.

    Those are the moments to work on your mental approach so that when you face the same feeling in a race you know what to do in that situation.

    That's a good point but I'd like to point out that simply doing the workout isn't where the mental training in that workout comes into play. It's about doing the workout, reminding yourself that this is how the last half mile of the 5k will feel or how mile 22 of the marathon will feel and reminding yourself how you succeeded in the workout with strength and composure. Thinking it of this way, as opposed to thinking that workout was really hard, it really beat me up, will give you the confidence that you can do the same thing in the race.

    A lot of basic mental training can in fact be done while running. Mental training goes a lot further than visualization. Just this past weekend, I was out on a difficult run and found myself struggling in the last mile. I asked myself what I would do in the last mile of a race if I felt this bad, then I picked up the pace and had a very good finish to that run. That's a form of mental training. So many things are forms of mental training and a lot of it is about always thinking positive in training so, when you get into a race and find things getting difficult, you will naturally think positively and be convinced that you can overcome the challenge. If you think you can overcome the challenge, you will give it a shot. If you don't think you can, chances are you won't even try.

  • #20586

    Chris
    Member

    I'm in the Chris camp on this one.  Everyday training makes up a large percent of my mental training.  Actually, the more I think of it I probably do many of the things you mentioned when running.  Visualizing races, relaxation, surges, forming images around music in my head, et cetera is done running.  When I run I am constantly thinking about that run.  I really don't think about anything else unless someone is engaging me in conversation.  The day before the race I just want to relax and feel light.

    …and I agree with Double that the more the I think about the more I realize that I also do the visualization during my every day runs.  Those articles kind of reminded me of that.  I just don't do the meditation thing….at least yet. 

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