Do you have a fall marathon or half on your calendar? If so, your training will begin in earnest during the summer months. And while you're building up weekly mileage, don't forget to train that important organ between your ears. Think about your brain as any other muscle in your body, says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach in Silver Spring, Maryland. "You have to push it regularly to gain confidence." Here's how to build your mental muscle.
Follow a training plan. The natural progression of most training plans builds mental toughness; the first mile repeat in week one, which felt nearly impossible, feels surprisingly easy during week 10.
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Find the race in the workout. Push out of your comfort zone to hit the prescribed paces for speedwork and tempo runs. "That way, when you get to race day, you've already been to that tough place a dozen times in training," Carl Leivers, an Atlanta-based running coach, says, "and you know you can respond to the challenge." (Intimidated by first races, hard courses, fast runners? Here's how to Overcome Your Mental Blocks and become a better runner.)
Take small bites. When the going gets tough, don't try to digest the rest of the workout or race in one huge bite. Tell yourself you're going to run this one hill hard, or run steady until the next aid station, or count your steps. "Count to 50 or 100 steps five times, then re-evaluate where you are," says Jess Underhill, a running coach in New York City. "It has a meditative quality that takes your mind off your pain."
Relax. In those leg-burning moments, don't let your brain clinch up the rest of your body. Breathe as regularly as possible, says Fitzgerald, and do an evaluation of your body: Are your fists unclenched, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms swinging naturally? Is your face relaxed? Is your stride smooth? "Visualize your body being as fluid as possible," he says. Still stressing out? Try these 10 Mental Tricks to Help You Run Better.
Words That Move You
Repeating a mantra—a short, meaningful phrase—can help you get into a meditative rhythm (read about the magic behind the right mantra). Here are a few we loved from Runner's World readers:
"Lay it down." @stridingmom
"Where do you want to be?" (A call to compete with faster teams in college races, which has stuck with me.) @kzigster
"Don't panic, don't puke." @carotabi
"RFP: Relentless Forward Progress." @bethp262
"Suck less." @hmgiraffy
"Grace. Strength. Power." @driesschultz