Integrating the Mental Game

One of the most common requests I get is “how do i integrate the mental part of running” in everyday training. In fact in a recent survey that was #2 most common request. I’ll run a series of articles on just how to do that over the coming weeks. But, I want to start with an invitation to you! No single person has all the answers or variety in addressing this issue – or any mental game issue for that matter. So, I would like your comments and emails on how YOU integrate mental game aspects into your daily training. I believe we can all learn from each other.

[Some of the best ideas may end up in an upcoming publication – you may be famous!]

Integration of the mental game into training does not happen by chance or “just cuz”. It must be purposeful. Some of you do not have written training plans. You run how you feel that day and have a vague idea of perhaps gradually running further in order to prepare for a marathon or go a bit faster sometimes to run a 5K or 10K better. So, how is that working for you? Similarly the mental game needs a plan in order to become more effective and actually show improvement. If your approach to the mental game is the same as your training – the results will reflect it (good or bad). If you don’t practice it; it WILL NOT MAGICALLY SHOW UP on race day.

You will not be mentally tough in a race if you haven’t been in practice.
You will not be focused in races if you haven’t practiced it in training.
You will not be “in the moment” if you don’t practice it in training.
You will not be ready to “execute” or “race” if you have not rehearsed a race plan.
You will not magically turn off all negative self talk in a race if you haven’t mastered doing this in training.
You will not work through rough patches in a race if you haven’t done so in training.

Case Study – Do as I say and as I Do!
I’m returning to health and running. I have a plan. I also know a year’s inactivity won’t be overcome overnight. I did a 4 mile run yesterday; 100F (I’m heat acclimated but this is still warm.) I knew I wanted to run 4 relaxed, steady and not die off at the end. I ran without looking at my watch the entire run. Why? Because I know that if I’m on the slow side it is harder for me to fight off negative thoughts – especially early in my training. (I know myself!)

I had a goal to run 7:45s without dying at the end. My key phrase or cue words were “smooth”, “relax” arms and shoulders “feel the rhythm” and “no effort just run.”

Though my mind flashes forward (“oh if I could just keep this pace it means I could run 3:20 for a marathon”) and backward (“this used to be so easy; I could run 30 miles at this pace at one time…”). I recognize that this fluidity of focus is normal. The most important thing is to recognize when you drift off and are not thinking constructive thoughts; stop thoughts that aren’t in the here and now; then refocus on your cue words and thoughts.

So this is an important learning point: focus is NOT a perfect or stagnant thing.. it moves and changes… you need to recognize when it is not a helpful focus (past and future or negative) and then have a strategy to get you back on track. Perfectionistic oriented people have the hardest time with this. Recognize, Regroup, Refocus. Do not let a lapse in focus through your whole run or race off.

From the beginning I knew that I needed to find my rhythm. I also knew it would get harder as the run progressed; fatigue wreaks havoc on focus and this is the time to PRACTICE IT! I kept refocusing on rhythm – turnover – and the same stride length and rate. Indeed breathing was harder last mile but took mind off that and back to the rhythm. I never did look at my watch. I ended averaging 7:32 per mile.

Better yet, I felt great about a successful run. I was mentally strong and feel like doing more versus defeated. I KNOW this pace is very pedestrian for ME. I also know I have to deal with today and not yesterday. I choose not to dwell on something that could escalate into a negative interpretation of the performance. It was just a performance. One that is one block in laying the foundation of mental toughness.

Would you like YOUR idea or technique or approach a part of my next mental game product? Drop a line to me or add you comment here. You might just end up published!

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