As a runner, you may spend hours practicing speed drills, pushing yourself up hills or taking the time to do strength and flexibility work in the gym. But what about your mental health and approach to running?
“Running requires as much mental strength as physical strength, which is why we focus so much on mental preparation before hard runs and races. This is something we call ‘the inner athlete’,” explains running coach, owner and founder of Fitness From Africa, Marcel Viljoen. “The art of developing the mental strength for running is often overlooked but it’s so important to set you up for success and to help you enjoy running more,” he adds.
Power of the Mind
For centuries, scientists have been fascinated by the role the mind plays in overcoming both mental and physical obstacles. And the truth is, we can train our brains to recognise and handle challenges differently – and, act differently in hard or stressful situations.
According to Dr Alia Crum who directs the Stanford Mind and Body Lab, "Our minds aren't passive observers, simply perceiving reality as it is. Our minds actually change reality.” Psychologist, Dr Beth Darnall’s work in the field has also revealed how the mind plays a critical role in the perception of pain.
“Pain is highly responsive to each person’s psychology and mindset,” she says. Those who expect worse pain, ruminate on it and feel helpless about it – what’s called pain catastrophising. On the other hand, those who shift to a positive mindset tend to feel less pain…”
A Holistic Approach to Running
“At Fitness From Africa, we concentrate on 8 important factors linked to running success, also known as the “S” factors of preparation. These include:
“The ‘Psychology’ aspect of running (point 8 above) is where we look at things like goal setting, mental visualisation techniques, as well as a training log and an achievement log which helps to focus on all the areas within your control,” says Marcel.
One of the most important parts of mental preparation is goal setting. The following fundamentals need to be practiced every day, as repetition is the mastery of skill.
“In addition to goal setting, over the past 20 years, I’ve been observing and working with the elite of the elite, and I find that they tick all the boxes in my PRATISE PERFECTION Model below… and I think it’s important for us, as recreational sportsmen, to strive towards the same,” says Marcel.
Mental Imagery / Visualisation
When you visualise your up-coming hard run or race, you compete only in your mind, but this can have such a powerful effect, that your entire body feels as if you’ve competed physically. Physical performance improves because your mind can’t distinguish between a visualised and an actual performance.
Try these tips to improve yours:
Role of Attention and Concentration
When you’re preparing to run a race, each of your 5 senses plays an important role, explains Marcel. “Think of your attention control as a spotlight, which you can shine in various directions. This can be external like an object or the ticking of a clock, or internal like your breathing.
The spotlight can be narrow to focus on a few things like putting in golf or wide to take in as many things at once as you do when you drive a car down a busy street. The master of attention will consistently perform well because he shuts out the churning of his stomach and the screaming fans, and focuses his attention so that he’s always in the right place at the right time and his response is automatic.”
What things should you pay attention to before and during a race?
Your Internal Bodily Sensations
You can use your opponents to draw out your best race effort. E.g. Who your opponents are, where they are, what they are doing, your own position, not to get cut off or boxed in, contact, your opposition’s present condition, etc.
The Race Route
Where does the route go, how far to the finish, running spits, next water station, etc.
Getting into THE ZONE
The idea is to clear your mind of everything and let your body function naturally, undisturbed by thoughts. This is also called getting into THE ZONE!
To help you get more into the zone, try to entertain inspirational thoughts, referred to as “positive self-affirmation”. Before and during the race, repeat the following:
To stay locked into the zone, your conscious mind will “shut off” as you become absorbed in the task – which is the race ahead.
To maximise your chances of staying in the zone throughout the race, try to
As speaker, author, and mind-set coach Allistair McCaw puts it, “You first need to see yourself as a champion before you can become one. It all starts in the mind.”
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