It's easy to get caught up in the numbers on your GPS watch or heart rate monitor and forget that running faster isn't just about physiological factors; it's about the ability to push your body to new limits.
What many runners don't realize, is that the ability to push hard is actually a skill that needs to be developed. Like all talents, some athletes are born with an inherent ability to challenge themselves during a race. But just like shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball, racing is a skill that can be improved with sport-specific training.
Here are some workouts to develop the physical and mental tenacity to take your racing to the next level.
Why Racing Is a Mental Challenge
It's important to understand why pushing yourself during a race can be inherently difficult. Once you have this understanding, you'll be able to improve your mental-racing skills.
The Central Governor
As humans, survival is our natural instinct. Our bodies are programmed to stop doing things that threaten our physical well-being. For example, when you put your hand on a hot stove, you instinctively pull it away before your hand is badly burned.
When racing, our brain employs what exercise scientists call the "Central Governor," and this is what controls our survival instinct.
During a race, your brain starts to calculate if you can safely sustain running at your current pace. This calculation isn't a conscious thought, but once your brain believes you can't continue at your current pace, it sends signals to the muscles to stop functioning. This is why you might get that feeling in the middle of a race that you can't push any harder.
Once the brain realizes that you'll survive the race, it stops sending these signals to the muscles and you can pick up the pace. This is why you're able to sprint once you see the finish line, even if you feel tired.