How to Become a Better Runner: Breaking the Mental Barriers

Whether you just started running because of a New Years Resolution or you are a collegiate runner, you experience mental challenges at every level.  You can be physically in the best shape of your life but if you mind isn’t in it, the finish line can seem like an eternity away.  Learning to break through common mental barriers can change you drastically as a runner and can help you reach new limits in your training and racing.

1.Beat the negative self-talk!
If you have negative thoughts in your head before showing up to a workout, the chances are it is going to be a pretty shitty workout.  A majority of my athletes (myself included) have a very hard time combating negative thoughts when they get to a hard part in a race because they don’t practice positive self-talk in practice.  It’s called practice for a reason.  I tell my athletes to pick power words or phrases to repeat in their head during workouts so that it becomes more natural in races.  For me, I have three key phrases that I repeat to myself during workouts; even if I am feeling good so that it comes natural when I race. 

                                  I am STRONG. I am FIT. I am CONFIDENT.

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2.  Break the race or workout down into smaller chunks. 
Running your first 5k can be daunting or completing your first 2 hour long run can sound scary (many of my athletes had their first 2 hour long run yesterday and they CRUSHED it).  If you are focused on how you are going to feel at mile 2 of a 5k before you hit the first mile, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Breaking a 5k up into 3 chunks rather than 1 sounds a lot less daunting.  Set smaller process goals throughout a race or workout to help you reach your final goal–you can use landmarks, people in front of you or distance markers are smaller goals to get you to the finish line. 

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3.  Learn how to compartmentalize.
Everyone has bad days—whether you got in a fight with your friend, failed a test, or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you must learn to put those thoughts aside when you get to practice or go out for a run.  That negative energy will physically drain you–stress is stress during a run so try to avoid emotional stress before stepping out the door.  If you can’t learn to separate your personal life and running life, a bad attitude from your personal life will make small mental challenges in running turn into moutnains.   Learn to clear your mind and use your run as a time to focus on you. 

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4. Know that running HURTS!!
You must come to terms with the fact that running hurts and racing really hurts a 99.9% of the time.  Most athletes only have 1 or 2 races in their entire career where they felt awesome the entire time (I can think of one race and I’ve been running competitively for 12 years).  Go into a race or workout knowing that it is going to be tough but have a plan to fight so when that defining moment hits you in the race, you have another punch to throw. 

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