I’m sure most of you have been in a situation, either during a race or on a long training run when the enjoyment has faded and mentally and physically you are heading into a darker place – I know I have on a number of occasions. When this does happen it’s important that you have strategies that can help you to cope. Rest assured this happens to greatest runners as well as mere mortals like us, so much so, we thought we would share our mental running tips with you:
Even the Elites Struggle
In a BBC interview, Paula Radcliffe, who knows a thing or two about visiting the pain cave, provided the following insight into her coping strategy –
“Everybody, whatever level you’re running at, will go through at least one difficult period in the race. It can come out of the blue, but it’s rarely in the first half of the race. Even when I’ve run a personal best I’ve still gone through rough spots.
“It’s important not to panic and to keep focused. Use little techniques to make yourself think about the moment, whether it’s singing to yourself, counting landmarks or counting in your head – anything. I used to count to 100 three times in my head and I knew that was roughly a mile. That helped me break down the mile into smaller chunks so instead of thinking ‘I’ve got 12 miles left’, you’re just counting ‘one, two, three…’ and that’s all you’re thinking about. You will disappear into your own little world.”
Focusing on a Positive Mental Attitude
Personally when I’m coaching athletes, I like to focus on encouraging a Positive Mental Attitude – “remember how strong you are and how much training you have done.”
Mo Farah has a very similar approach and revealed in an interview with Runners World that “I just keep going over the training I’ve done in my head and telling myself how strong, how fit, how ready I am – and how everything I have done means I can handle the pain. Positive thinking, all the time.”
I constantly try to reinforce that positive message during training blocks. This means that the athlete has a mantra they can fall back on during the race when things are getting harder.
Mental Running Tips and Techniques to Help You Cope
Sometimes when we’re suffering we can allow our thoughts to become all encompassing, often to the detriment of our eating and drinking strategy. When this happens we can start to deteriorate physically as well. If you are able to identify this happening, slow your running, or walk and focus entirely on eating or drinking something. Only pick up the pace again once you have consumed food or drink, hopefully this will help break the cycle of negative thoughts.
Find a Running Buddy
One thing I do to lift myself out of a negative mindset and to get back on track is to run alongside another competitor for a while, I just focus on matching their rhythm and stride, letting them do the pacing for both of us – I should point out that I always check the other runner is ok with me running with them. Nobody has ever said no – yet!
Friendly Faces Can Lift You
Also I always respond well to a friendly face in the crowd or at a checkpoint – you could think about asking a friend or family member to position themselves towards the end of the course, where you think you might need some encouragement. Personally I find that it gives me an instant adrenaline rush and a nice feeling that tends to stay with me for the next few miles.
It sounds strange, especially given that you are in a world of pain but, if I can remember at the time, smiling always really helps me. I remember smiling my way to the finish of my first marathon. The crowd support was phenomenal, so much so that you couldn’t help but smile. I then said to a friend of mine “when it gets tough, just keep smiling”. She reported after her Berlin marathon that she carried these words with her and did exactly that. Sounds bizarre but try it.
Perhaps even more bizarre than smiling, but this advice was once imparted to me by a former coach in my early days of running. Just try and speed up for a bit. If you’ve already tun 50 miles that may be a tall order, but sometimes it can help. Listen, at this point we are ready to try anything, right?
Just Keep Moving
The final piece of wisdom from our mental running tips is quite simple! Just keep moving forwards, even if you’re walking – every step you take is one more closer to the finish. Start to visualise the finish – imagine crossing the line and think about how good it will feel.
And Back to Paula’s Mental Running Tips
Anyway enough of my thoughts, let’s go back to Paula for the final word on this subject:
“There will be times when you start questioning yourself and it’s during those times you must think back to the preparation you’ve done. Nine times out of 10 the race is much easier than your longest training run. You’re rested, you’re fresher and you have the support of the crowd, use their energy.
“Have an idea of what time you want to do but if you’re feeling better than expected, throw that out of the window, and, equally, if you’re feeling rough, stop looking at the clock and concentrate on completing the race.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about finishing that race. No-one wants a DNF and if that PB is slipping away from you, you can either dig in and find that divine intervention, using all the mental running tips above or accept that maybe it won’t be a PB but you will finish. Whatever it takes to get you to that finish line!