Running is as mental of a pursuit as it is a physical one. With long distance running in particular, this test of mental endurance and toughness becomes magnified, and is something that even experienced runners have surrendered too.
Why Does Mental Training Matter?
The exhaustion that muscles experience during running is also experienced by the brain, but in a different way. The brain actually uses up the most energy compared to any of your other organs, which means that it’s especially susceptible to getting tired. Mental fatigue is characterized by lapses in cognitive functions like memory and coordination, but more importantly, it affects your ability to focus on the task at hand. When there are dozens of miles still ahead of you, getting mentally fatigued, bored, or burned out is the last thing you want to experience, as these will significantly diminish your performance.
That said, here’s how to boost your mental endurance:
Break down the run
For starters, sports psychologist Dr. Kacey Oiness recommends breaking down a long run into smaller segments. For example, think of a marathon as running five 5-milers plus a victory lap of 1.22 miles. This will help make it less intimidating and more manageable.
Moreover, it’s also good to apply key concepts of meditation by being in the present moment. Focus on the first few miles instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed by the entire race ahead of you. By changing your mindset in this way, you’ll feel small victories as you finish each segment, which can be a much-needed motivational boost as you move forward.
Talk to yourself positively
All runners negotiate with themselves on whether they should complete a race or not. But a study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reveals that exhaustion is actually the work of a brain that gave up too easily. Once you start believing that you might not be able to finish, the body naturally follows. These thoughts then become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is why it’s important to be your own personal cheerleader.
Instead of giving in to negative thoughts, get used to positive self-talk by writing self-motivational statements down and repeating those to yourself as you run.
Visualize your success
It might seem cheesy, but visualizing your success is actually a trick that works well for many athletes. It’s the main idea behind the book of psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown and fitness expert Liz Neporent, The Runner’s Brain: How to Think Smarter to Run Better. In it, the authors explore the findings of a study among weightlifters who reported better strength-building results after applying this technique.
Dr. Brown suggests being very specific about visualizing your run, including what you wear, while adding words of affirmation. In fact, psychologists at Maryville University point out that mental health and learning success are interconnected, which can explain why having a positive attitude can help achieve personal goals. Your winning mindset influences the way you tackle training and competitive races. So even when your body is ready to give up, this can be overpowered by your mind and surprise you on your feet.