Runners are always focused on training their bodies with long runs, workouts, and strength training. But why don’t we formally train our minds and develop our mental skills?
Building mental skills and prioritizing our mindset may sound out there to some but they’re an essential part of preparing for a peak performance. While being fit and fast will always work in your favor, training your brain can make the difference in your ability to succeed.
Today I want to share the story of Adam, a runner that I’ve been coaching for almost a year. We’ve been working together to build his physical and mental skills.
Adam exemplifies how mental fitness can help runners of all levels improve. He came to running later in life at the age of 45 and faced a learning curve while he adapted to the mental and physical challenges of a new sport.
He told me:
I used to struggle with focus during long runs and my biggest struggle was tempo runs.
I also have anxiety before races and when the anxiety becomes crippling, it becomes a problem.
Today, I want to share how Adam has overcome his mental struggles and built his confidence, mental toughness, and lowered his anxiety.
Mental Skills Flow From Physical Skills
Adam using his confidence to race fast
Even though Adam didn’t have a long running history, he quickly learned the importance of balancing mental and physical training. These skills are constantly intertwined.
While there are some mental skills that can be developed away from running (such as visualizing an upcoming race), many are learned from a thorough, progressive training plan that gives you opportunities to push yourself safely and appropriately.
Adam learned this as his workouts progressed over time. They got more and more challenging but also gave him more confidence as he pushed through new mental hurdles to complete them. Progressive workouts trained his mind and body and helped boost his mental toughness on race day.
That’s because mental toughness is a learned skill through experience (you don’t learn it from a textbook). Adam understood that you must step out of your comfort zone and challenge your preconceived notions of what you’re capable of achieving.
He told me:
You can’t ask someone to get off a couch and race a marathon with sheer mental toughness. Mental toughness comes with having trained your mind just like one trains the body.
You have been successful in training my body to do things that I didn’t think I could and that has definitely built mental toughness.
Repeated exposure to challenge was instrumental in giving Adam the confidence to push his body and accomplish more of his goals.
But what about race-day anxiety?
Confidence Reduces Anxiety
If you get nervous before a race or hard workout, congratulations! You are a human being.
Anxiety is a normal human response to a new or challenging situation. If you’re not nervous, the race probably doesn’t matter enough. Even elite runners get anxious prior to a race, but they know how to channel that anxiety into a productive effort.
Like many of us, Adam admits to being nervous prior to races. Despite that, he has learned how to draw confidence from his training so that a normal amount of nervousness doesn’t become crippling anxiety:
Yes, I do have anxiety before races. However, my confidence level has gone up significantly because I have been able to push myself in training and I am able to bank on that both before and during a race.
Pushing yourself during training provides confidence and that “bank” of experience to draw from in a race situation.
And it’s not just workouts. Adam has improved his mental focus during his long runs as well:
I used to struggle with focus during long runs. The way you built the confidence in me is remarkable. Now a long run to me is just another run and I tackle it with confidence.
You taught me that it’s OK to have a failed run and just pick up where I left the next week. The results have been surprising. I feel like a different runner. A long run is no longer the beast that it used to be. I just go about it normally.
Sometimes, that might lead to failure. A short term “failure” might mean walking during a long run, or not hitting the pace you were hoping for in your tempo run or intervals.
These are not failures, however; they are better appreciated as learning experiences!
Mindset training helps you learn how to turn these minor setbacks into longer-term successes. Adam has learned the mental skills to embrace failure as part of the training process.
A coach can be a huge asset to help you look at your failure objectively. They can ask the tough questions or provide perspective that you didn’t consider:
- What needs to happen to produce a different outcome?
- Were outside factors negatively affecting your performance (weather, training context, altitude, stress, etc.)?
- Did you succeed at part of the workout and we can consider this a partial success?
Over time, setbacks will always help you learn as long as you find a way to use them constructively.
What Happens When You Focus on Mental Skills
Actively working on your mental skills allows you to grow into a more robust runner. Training or race setbacks are always difficult – but they can be reframed and used to propel your progress.
For Adam, the first realization that he was approaching running differently was that he finally “felt like a runner!” Often, new runners struggle with this sense of inclusion.
Working with a coach helped Adam change his perspective and feel more confident in his abilities. He’s benefited in so many ways:
- Workouts became something to look forward to, rather than something he might fail at
- He’s much more focused during long runs and they’re no longer “the beast” they used to be
- Failed runs happen – just pick up where you left off and move on
- He no longer worries about falling apart in a race (he trusts his training and gets confidence from workouts)
Adam exemplifies how runners can gain confidence through physical training and performance psychology. He’s learned to handle workouts he never thought possible and has translated that confidence to racing.
He explains it best:
Believe in your training. Believe in your coach. It is going to hurt no matter how much you train but the hurt becomes a learned experience and the success of completing a tough workout will translate into the high of a great finish!
Over time, Adam has developed the mental skills necessary to become a “mentally fit” runner:
Now my question for you:
Would you want to work together to increase your mental skills and become more mentally tough, focused, confident, and with less anxiety?
I’m putting together something special for a small group of runners that I’ll be announcing next week. I’m thrilled with how it’s coming together – and it’s almost ready for you.
I can’t wait to share it with some of you… but first, I want to hear from you.
What is the #1 mental skill that you would like to work on? How would it help your running?
Leave your comment below and I’ll be in touch soon with more details!