It is easy to get caught up in the latest gear and gadgets when it comes to improving your running. Having the trendy new pair of sneakers, the latest GPS watch, or the newest version of the iPod, appears to be the magic elixir for runners who are stuck in a rut. But are these gadgets the answer to a runners struggle? Probably not. Many athletes and coaches agree that a large portion of success in any sport is due to mental factors. The day-to-day fluctuations in performance a runner may experience are primarily due to psychological issues rather than technical deficiencies.
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After all, a runner does not have the strength and endurance to run 10 miles one day, only to have it disappear the next as they struggle through a 5-miler. What happens is that a sub-par performance in that 5-mile run will begin to trigger thoughts of doubt and feelings of incompetence. By realizing that thoughts, feelings, and performance are interrelated, runners can begin the process of gaining control over their runs as opposed to feeling controlled by their runs.
While mental training is a critical component to the overall development of an athlete, many runners do not address this area of training and often find themselves struggling during their training or in their races. One of the basic principles to successful running is to simplify the thought process. As many runners will attest, the less you think the better you run. With so many random thoughts racing through the mind on a daily basis, minimizing distractions and negativity can be difficult. One reason why runners neglect the mental side of running is their unfamiliarity with the basics of applied sport psychology and mental training. In keeping with the "less is better" philosophy, mental training is best understood using the following three-word construct: Thinking --> Feeling --> Performing.
When heading out for a run, take a moment to identify the thoughts you are having. Are you optimistic about your ability to run your planned distance? Are you thinking about how good you will feel during and after the run? Or are you thinking about how you would rather be doing anything else but running? Maintaining positive thoughts before and during a run is the first step to gain control over your performance.
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As you are preparing for the run and identifying your thoughts, determine your emotional state. Are you excited for the run? Do you feel a sense of personal challenge with the distance you are set to run? Do you feel confident in your abilities? Or are you anxious, nervous, worried, and stressed about the mileage you are about to tackle? Maintaining positive emotions before and during the run is the second step to gain control over your performance.
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Having positive thoughts and feelings as you begin a run will set you up for success. It may not result in a PR, but you are in a much better position to have an enjoyable experience with the appropriate mindset. Your thoughts can influence your feelings, and your feelings can then influence how you perform. Once you get into the run, one strong mile will lead to more positive thoughts, more confident feelings, and more miles run. Conversely, negative thoughts usually lead to negative feelings, and ultimately, ragged runs.
Overcoming the Common Struggles
So, if you find yourself struggling on some runs, take a moment to identify your current thought. Chances are it will be a negative, self-defeating thought that is making you feel anxious, unfocused, and question your abilities. Instead of trying to fix physical or technical problems that may not be causing the poor performance, change your thoughts to something positive, optimistic, and confidence-enhancing. This will help you feel good about yourself and get you back in your groove when you hit the streets.
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