6'0 tall, former athlete, mother of 3, struggling to keep up on the RUN of daily life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brain on the RUN

In looking at my training plans I noticed something. There is no section for MENTAL TRAINING.. Hmmmmm.... Much of distance Running is mental, and yet the "Brain Training" is not written down.

Why is that??? I have a few ideas. The first is that it is VERY VERY difficult to measure Mental capacity/strength. Physical endurance can be built up, tested and is visible. But the inner workings of the Athlete, how do we test that? My answer? NO IDEA FOLKS..
I have been an athlete for as long as I can remember. My Mental bag of tricks is so big that it is collecting dust. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional psychologist) I may not be able to make you a Brain Training Plan but I will offer a few things that work for me:
Tall Mom Brain Training Tricks:
  • Avoid the Negative Self Fulfilling prophecy- Don't know what this is, check out Wikipedia here. How does this relate to running? Have you ever said the following "I can't run more than 2 miles without stopping," or "I always bonk at mile 17," or "I am so slow, I will never be able to run fast," or "I am not a strong runner." Say those things to yourself, even internally, enough times and it becomes the TRUTH. That negative seed you planted will come back to take you down, so don't plant the seed. Change your thinking to be positive!!
  • Find Autopilot- If you have been a distance runner (Distance runner by my definition is 3 miles+++) long enough you have found Autopilot. It is that state where you are not consciously aware that you are running. Lost in your music, taking in the environment, etc.. Your feet are moving, but you are not thinking about running. When I find myself letting Negative Nancy in, I push her out by clearing my mind. I will sing, people watch and look for interesting things along the path. I will often tell myself and my running buddies "Get out of your head!!"
  • File Away Runs- While training for the Eugene Marathon I had a mental file for my training runs. A file for Yuck, Strength and Pace. My Goal was to qualify for Boston. The Yuck file had those runs that SUCKED, where I did not feel well but pushed through. If I felt a bit down during the Marathon I would think "This is nowhere near as bad as my 23 mile training run on HILLS with an upset stomach." There are also those amazing training runs where you are in the zone, where race pace feels natural. Those runs I filed away as confidence builders and committed those to memory the night before the race. Thinking "This is how you will feel on race day."
  • HAVE A PLAN!!- There are so many elements that can go crazy on race day. So you should go in with a plan. For fuel, water, support, etc. As your mind gets tired it will be harder to think. Have a plan, try to follow it and check in with your body along the way, adjust where needed.
  • Count up, Count Down, Count all Around- While you are training think about the best way to count. Do you like to count up or count down? Break things into sections, time, etc. For me if I think about Time I get freaked out!! So I have to count down. Internally thinking "I ONLY have 7 miles left" is much easier to accept than over an hour remaining. Use the same counting every time to avoid thinking in terms that will push you down.
  • Visualize the FINISH- 1 mile, 5K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, Ultra and beyond it is all the same, you are running for the FINISH LINE!! When I have a Goal I imagine that Finish Line over and over. Always with the same positive end. I think about how it will feel to reach that Goal. The pride, the joy, the pain, the fatigue... During my training the last .1 is always that visualization of the FINISH LINE. Smile for your picture folks, this is the line you have been training to cross.

I have more, but I am sure that is enough for the day. The key here is DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU TO KEEP YOUR BRAIN RUNNING POSITIVE!!!

  • What tricks work for you??



Tricia said...

great tips! I really needed these as I am a month out from my marathon and doubts are starting to creep in.

Jen said...

Some great advice! Thanks for posting!

kimert said...

Great post! Awesome advice! My mental run is what ALWAYS gets me. I admit, I am a Negative Nellie a lot of times before even setting out to run. Shame on ME!
What works for me? Hmm. Yesterday's run was good (for me). Although a treadmill run I will still beaming the entire time I ran. Not sure if that had to do with watching the Chilean rescue during my run (it made me smile the whole time) or just that I let go and "just did it."
Thanks for sharing these tips!

TNTcoach Ken said...

Good post, I talk about visualization a lot during training. Finding that 'happy place' mentally is important.

Emily said...

You are going to be the best running coach ever! I always think about my goals when I'm having a tough time with a workout. I think about my next race and what I want out of it, I think about competing and how I want to remember my tough workouts and finishing my tough runs will help fuel my motivation in a race. "I got through that 20 miler in 96 degree heat, I can finish this marathon!" I think about the fact that I need to finish awesome workouts if I want to achieve my goals! (The word of the day is clearly "goal.")

Also, running with friends never hurts for distracting you from mental demons

track coach and adorable wife said...

Good tips, especially the first one for me!

I don't know if you are doing High-five tomorrow, but we are having a giveaway for Chrissy's Knee High Socks ending 10-20-10! Thanks!

Marlene said...

AWESOME POST by one of my most FAVORITE athletes!!! Filing away runs is key for me... I save the GOOD ones to memory, but I also like to store the BAD ones in a special place for when I need a reminder of a time that I pushed through a tough spot so I *know* I can do it again. The UGLY runs are filed away never to be remembered again. :D

Questionably Texan said...

I've also wondered why more attention isn't paid to the mental side of running. For me, one of the best things I've done this round of training is to leave the iPod behind on my long runs. I don't plan to listen to music during my marathon (<48hrs away, yikes!). And so I wanted to train myself to be with my thoughts, sans musical distractions, for that long and not go crazy. Wasn't always easy, but I feel mentally stronger now.

Indi said...

awesome tips Mel!! Its definitely more a mental game that what i ever thought and a strong mind conquers!

Anonymous said...

i definitely think the hardest part of training is building up the mental endurance to get through tough times. and there's no way for me to define what i do to endure! so thanks for defining it for me :)

Rae said...

Awesome tips! Thanks for sharing!

Rae said...

Awesome tips! Thanks for sharing!

Zaneta @ Runner's Luck said...

I always love your posts! Today is no different! Thank you so much for the tips!! You made me think about how I think while I run! :D

Laura said...

Awesome post Mel, thank you! I totally agree w/the auto pilot one!

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

I am suffering from Negative talk in other life areas. I have caught myself doing it and actually said out loud that I need to stop it and then state (out loud) 3 positive things about whatever I was grumbling about. I believe that the "things" we put out there can be self fulling. So in all areas of my life, I try to say positive things (esp. when I am feeling negatively about a situation). I don't know if it actually helps but I know positive talk does not hurt!

Great advice!

Cynthia said...

Great advice! I like the file away runs. One of the things I also do is count down or break up my long training runs. When i did a 20 miler i broke it up into 5 mile increments. I would run for 5 miles and take a quick refuel/walk break, would tell myself only 5 more miles to go. Before I knew it I was at mile 15 with only 5 more miles to go. Really helped me.

Kate Geisen said...

Positive self talk is huge for me. Finding distractions, though I have to be careful not to be too distracted, or I'll fall like I did (twice!) on last Sunday's trail run.

runninglawyer said...

This is definitely my favourite post from you so far, really helpful. I am horrible with my mental training - I just can't seem to keep from knocking myself down a pag during a race. I will definitely take these tips to heart and try to be more positive on my next big race!

No Longer Using said...

i adore this concept.
i agree- all training plans should have "mental toughness training" built in... like a daily focus in addition to your daily workout (or rest day). could be a one word focus with a little blurb about why it's important. LOOOOVE it!!

Anonymous said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I also am a "counter downer". It really helps me get through the run.

H Love said...

so good to remember! when you your next race that you are training for?

Unknown said...

Great post. I am all for the brain training!

Sarah @ A Runner's Heart said...

Thank you for the tips! I will have to try the counting down method on my next run! :) I am a new runner and I am constantly having the "negative thoughts" creeping in my head. I try to think about other things but then my head crawls back to me being so slow and barely being able to run 2 miles without walking...I just keep having to remind myself that I am beginner! :)

Denise said...

the mental side of running is harder for me than the actual act of running. however, i don't like autopilot and don't let myself go there. if i do, i lose my focus, my form suffers, my pace gets wacky (faster or slower). so i try to keep myself in the game at all times.

Joggin' Momma said...

To illustrate how much I REALLY needed to read this post given my own mental "Mommy Brain" state, I misread the title of this post and thought it said "Brian on the Run"...wondered who Brian was...and then as I read kept wondering what all this mental stuff had to do with someone named Brian?? Oops! Great post!

Katie A. said...

Great tips! I'm going to keep these in my back pocket this weekend ;) I'm really in the self-doubt category right now and I don't want to have a self-prophecy! Mental toughness gets you through the race, your legs you already know can do it!!

run with Jill said...

You are absolutely right, Mel.

Mental training, I think, is the hardest part. It takes a lot to stay motivated and committed everyday. and, I see too many who are in shape, ready for race day physically, but not there mentally.

one of my fav quotes:
"what the mind thinks, the body will follow"

thanks and happy weekend.

Jess @ Blonde Ponytail said...

You are already a coach!! Great tips to keep in mind...on the next race...TBD! I don't have amnesia yet from Portland! ;)

Unknown said...

Awesome tips! I definitely try to break up the run and lose myself in it. "I only have whatever left," is a staple for me!

Winks & Smiles,

Unknown said...

Thanks for this helpful tips. This would be a lot of help for newbies like me. More power to you! ~ brooks running ~

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