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!

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, I  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