If you want to achieve that running goal you’ve set yourself, no matter what it is, you need to train your mind as well as your body. You can’t leave it to race day because more often than not your mind will win – and your mind usually wants you to slow down, give up and stop! So it comes down practicing mental toughness and strategies in training, especially in the harder physical training runs, and in the immediate lead up to your race.
I wanted to write this because I honestly believe that it came down to mental will when I was striving for a sub 40min 10k this year and I hope that it will help other runners with their "brain training".
Here are six tips to help you in your toughest training sessions;
1) Focus on the here and now – stay in the present moment. Keep bringing your thoughts back to now, what you can do now, your form, your turnover, your strength. Practice it and when it comes to crunch on race day, when it’s hurting you will know how to rise above and focus on what you are doing in the present.
2) Don’t wander off mentally – don’t think ahead to the next rep or what you are going to do after your run - not to your coffee, not to housework, not to your next holiday. When you notice your thoughts wandering bring them back to what you are doing and what you need to do to achieve it.
3) Shut that voice down – the negative voice. Practice putting it in it’s place. When you hear it in training find the words you need to override that voice that says you can’t or says it’s ok to give up. Find a mantra to use, or make one up on the spot that suits.
4) Just get it done – stop thinking so much, in fact don’t think at all. They certainly got it right when they said “just do it”.
5) Before you attack a difficult run practice a routine that gets you into the “zone” – for example I like to do some deep breathing and positive self talk, tell myself how it's going to pan out, and set my goal pace in my minds eye, and pretend I am about to race before I do a hard tempo run.
6) Visualise yourself running the race – know the course (look up photos, the course map, ask other people who have run it or see if you can drive/ride/run the course beforehand), visualise running strong, positively and powerfully. Do it every spare moment you have. See it in your mind on your way to sleep, and when doing everyday things that don't require much mental focus. You can create the experience you want to have ahead of time. Your mind is your most powerful tool.
Practice these things in training and it is more likely that this will transfer over to race day where and that you will be able to take control and stay mentally tough when things get hard, the mental battle begins and the hurt sets in on race day...