Upping My Mental Running Game


As I’ve mentioned in my race reports for the Run Hard Half Marathon, Swamp Rabbit Half Marathon and the Green Valley 10-Miler, improving my mental toughness has been a huge focus for me this training cycle. My mental game has always been a weak spot for me when it comes to running (and let’s be honest, sometimes life), but I’ve been determined to stay positive while training for the Prague Marathon. Many of you have noticed how much more positive and upbeat I’ve been about running, training, and racing, and its no coincidence – I’ve been working really hard! I’ve been employing every tool I can find to boost my mental training and I think it’s working. While I don’t think any one of them has been the difference maker all on its own, the combination of all of them has really helped! Here’s how I’ve been upping my mental running game:

1. Reading Sports Psychology Books: My coach recommended that I pick up the book Mind Gym, even though the stories in it are largely about baseball and football. I thought I had never heard of it…only to find out that it was already purchased and buried somewhere deep in my kindle from four years ago. Oops! I actually like that the stories are mostly about other sports, because it allows me to make my own connections as to how the lessons apply to running in ways that are the most relevant to me. The chapters are short and have helped me identify some of the issues that are holding me back while also offering suggestions for improvement. I definitely recommend checking it out!

2. Scrolling Instagram: I personally find Instagram excellent for motivation. I don’t mean the “perfect body” kind. I mean the kind that gets me out of bed on a Saturday morning because as tired as I am, I see that a few of the people I follow are already out there doing their long runs. For me, it has helped me to feel a sense of community and helps me get out the door. When I know other people are out there running, I find myself thinking more positively about what I’m doing. Weirdly, I also feel some sort of sense of wanting to make people proud. It helps me push myself! So please keep posting your running photos – the earlier in the morning, the better. And follow me on Instagram, too!

Run Hard Columbia
I love when races give you free photos!

3. Tuning in to podcasts: I’ve always preferred chatting with a friend while running over listening to music, but there’s a problem – I don’t have many friends in Greenville that run (yet). That means that for the first part of my training, I was headed out the door solo and wasn’t usually super motivated by music. Right around the same time I started training, two of my favorite bloggers launched their own podcasts – Ali from Ali on the Run and Kelly from Run, Selfie, Repeat. I only let myself listen to their podcasts while I’m running, so it has been a fun way to motivate myself! Through them, I’ve also found other running podcasts. The great thing about all of these podcasts is that in addition to the fact that they are “keeping me company” on the run, they’re also offering their own tips for training and running strong. And I need all the tips I can get!

4. Using the Headspace app: While this isn’t technically running-related per se, I’ve started to use the Headspace app at night before I go to sleep to help shut my brain off. I know that’s not really the point of the app – it’s a meditation and mindfulness app – but for me, it is really helpful to quiet my thoughts before I go to bed. Not only does this help me get a better night’s sleep, it also helps me push any worries about the next day’s workout out of my mind. That’s particularly helpful the night before a long run, when I usually find myself doubting my strength.

5. Watching YouTube videos: I’m not exaggerating when I say that tuning in to YouTube videos has been a HUGE component of my mental training. I never kept up with Kelly’s (@RunSelfieRepeat) training for her first attempt at qualifying for Boston, but I found her YouTube channel this year right as she started training for her second attempt. Even though we have totally different goals, our races are just a couple of weeks apart, and I relate so much to some of the struggles she has with running – especially the self doubt. It has been so much fun to follow along with all of her videos and keep up with her training. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt totally unmotivated or even afraid to go out and run, and I just turn her latest video on and watch how she feels the exact same thing as me – and then goes and does her workout anyway. I’ve noticed that watching someone else deal with their confidence issues has really given me the courage to deal with mine, and I’ve seen huge improvements. Plus, it is fun to root someone else on, and YouTube is a way different medium than blogging, obviously!

I watch one of Kelly’s YouTube videos every time I feel intimidated by a workout, because she feels intimidated a lot, too. Then, she does it anyway.

6. Utilizing Visualization: Piggybacking onto my discussion of YouTube, I decided to do something this year that I have never done for any marathon course in my entire life. I decided to find a course video for the Prague Marathon! I used to absolutely hate knowing what was coming on a course because it made me feel intimidated about the length, but I figured if I started visualizing running strong on the entire course of the Prague Marathon – and actually knew what it looked like – it could be helpful! I’ve been able to identify spots where I might have a tough time – for example, long highway stretches near the end – so I’ll be mentally ready for them when they come during the race. Plus, the course is so beautiful and it gives me something to get excited about!

7. Training to finish strong: My one and only goal for Prague is to finish strong. Logically, that means I need to train so that a strong finish is possible! I don’t want to be crawling across the finish line. So, for each and every single run I’ve done this training cycle, I have practiced running faster at the end – even if it is just the tenth of a mile down my street. Pushing myself when I feel exhausted has given me a lot of confidence, and I’m constantly reinforcing the idea that I have a little more left in the tank. For long runs, I’ve taken it up even further – I aim to make my last mile my fastest and I gradually increase my pace over the last few miles. This has been working like a charm! My fastest miles have always been at the ends of my long runs (usually the last 3 miles) and I believe this has been a huge contributor to negative splitting the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon, Swamp Rabbit Half Marathon and the Green Valley 10-Miler. I am training my brain to believe that I can run strong the last few miles in Prague, even if they aren’t my fastest!

Mid-week longish runs are helping me to feel strong, too!

8. Developing a mantra: As we established during the Green Valley 10-Miler, my mantra-making could use some work. While I’m still not the best at developing those “short and sweet” phrases to motivate myself during the race, IĀ  have been practicing positive self-talk and worked on pushing negative thoughts out of my head, both before and during hard efforts. Currently, I’m liking “strong and steady!”

9. Working with a coach: I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that working with my coach has been a huge contributing factor in the improvement in my mental game. In addition to the accountability that a coach offers (I text her my workout results every day), she is also so positive and encouraging about every run. Before the Green Valley 10-Miler, I literally sent her a text that said “Pretty sure I’m going to finish this race in last place. Everyone here looks very fast. But I suppose as long as I survive and my kidneys don’t mutiny, that’s what counts.” Her response was ” I love how you’re not dramatic at all.” And then she said some positive and encouraging things but more importantly – she made me see how ridiculous I was being. I like to think that she finds my neuroses amusing, such as when I recently flipped out over her adding one mile to my mid-week runs. Her support and reassurance has been huge, and I love that my training plan has always felt completely doable but with just the slightest hint of challenge. It’s been great for boosting my confidence and has resulted in a lot of great runs!

She also is an excellent pacer and doesn’t mind when you threaten to puke on her.

LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you have a strong or weak mental game when it comes to your running? How do you work to improve it?

Running is 90% mental and 10% physical. Here's how @thetrexrunner is upping her game. #runchat Click To Tweet



18 thoughts on “Upping My Mental Running Game

  1. I feel like I’m constantly working on this and, I have come a long way in triathlon, but I still have a long way to go! I mostly listen to motivational books on my LONG indoor rides but it helps me focus and I’ve grown to love them. One of my favorites is The Mindful Athlete. Plus, the narrator has this powerful yet calm voice. I wish he could narrate every book I listen too!

    Stay strong my friend!!!

  2. Isn’t it amazing that they now have course videos? I wonder what earlier runners think of that. I know it is the evolution of the sport and technology–just like they used to wear terrible shoes and cotton.
    You have without a doubt SIGNIFICANTLY upped (I should say revolutionized) your mental game this time around–GET IT GIRL

    1. It’s funny – normally, it would never ever occur to me to look up a course video. In fact, during some races that my mom has come to with me, I would hunch over in the back seat so I couldn’t see the course since she always wanted to drive it to find the good spectating spots. It made the race seem longer to drive it! But for this race, I really want to be mentally prepared for what is coming in the later miles and I want to visualize success, so I figured I would change things up a bit. We’ll see how it goes!

  3. I think it is incredible how important the mental game is to running – it is yet another thing I never even knew about for the first ~23 years I was a runner. I just ran, that was how I saw it – didn’t think about mental motivation, positive (and negative) self talk, and so on.

    Yet the last 5+ years have taught me so much, given me so much perspective – about how self-defeating I had been getting back into running after dealing with my thyroid issues, same for the steep hills, faster paces, and so on. I had to peel off SO many very old monsters from my youth to get to where I am – and I make no pretense that I am a great runner at all, just a happy & healthy guy who loves to run.

    Watch you – and others I follow – couple mental and physical fitness training – and getting amazing results … has been incredibly inspirational. I am so proud of your strength.

    1. Yes! I know you have mentioned several times about struggling with low self-esteem and always seeing yourself as “the fat kid,” so it totally makes sense that you would struggle with confidence where running is concerned. I think it’s easy to look at running as such a physical sport, but if it was purely physical, I think a lot more people would do it, and it would be a lot easier to see improvement. Physical training can only take you so far – at some point, the mental has to take priority and work in tandem with the physical. Thanks for your insightful comment! Being a happy, healthy runner is always the goal.

  4. I find instagram and social media to be motivating to a point. It’s always great to see friends kicking butt in races but sometimes it’s hard when you aren’t running too. I think any runner can benefit from mental focus and training.

    1. You’re absolutely right! I really struggled with social media when I was on bed rest before my back surgery and wasn’t able to run for about 5 months total. I stopped reading running magazines, “hid” my running friends on social media, etc. It was too painful to see everyone out there running.

  5. I really recommend reading “How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle” by Matt Fitzgerald. I regret not reading this until after my first marathon, which I realize in retrospect that I sabotaged with my own attitude. Plus, it’s an interesting set of anecdotes – so no harm in reading it anyway.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Emily! A few people have mentioned this book, so I think it’s time to order a little present for my Kindle šŸ™‚

  6. I’m so sure I’ve heard of Mind Gym and have just been putting off reading it. I also have a copy of How Bad Do You Want It? and haven’t read it yet, but I know it would be beneficial to my run group, so I definitely should!

    1. Well if it will help your run group, that’s all the motivation you need! I’ll read it if you do šŸ™‚

  7. It sounds odd but I felt that ever since coming through the other side of hell with a Crohn’s diagnosis and finally achieving remission my mental game has improved x a million. I find myself so much more willing to go to that hard place in a race and embrace it now. I wound up PR’ing a 5K on a hilly not typical PR course a couple weeks ago as a surprise and 100% attribute my mental game for helping.

    You’re going to do amazing in Prague. Also – midweek longer runs are definitely a favorite when building up endurance.

    1. Gianna, that is amazing! Congratulations on your PR! It’s not surprising that you are more willing to put yourself in a hard place now since you are in remission for Crohn’s. You’ve already experienced so much pain, running probably feels like a cake walk. I guess there’s always a silver lining, right? Congrats again!

  8. The toughest mental game is running with faster runners (aka all of them) at my local running group. There are a couple of BQ and ultra runners there (all super nice) and you can’t help develop mental toughness when they are literally twice as fast as you. I’ll get there some day.

    1. That is 100% understandable, John. I have avoided running with one of the local groups here for that exact same reason. But ultimately, the type of work I’ve been doing doesn’t really have anything to do with speed – it has more to do with believing that I can finish a given distance and still feel strong. It’s about not letting myself be intimidated by a workout that I realistically know I can do. If I was trying to build my confidence based on how fast I am relative to other people…well…that would probably never happen. I totally get where you are coming from!

  9. You are incredibly strong! Train hard, then just enjoy the scenery on your victory lap! I have no doubt you’ll be sprinting at the finish!

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