Mental Training

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Beyond its obvious physical aspect, running has an undeniable mental component. Training is as much a mental discipline as it is a physical act. Your mindset can either make or break a workout or a race.

We often believe that it’s physical skills that are the hardest to master and spend the majority of our time developing our form, building up our physical strength and cardiovascular endurance. We don’t invest much time in developing our mental game even though it’s just as influential to our success.

Because we don’t learn to flex our mental muscles, we end up not knowing what to do; we end up losing motivation, get discouraged because of injuries, or talk ourselves out of doing that hard workout.

If you’re a new runner, you’re often even more confused about what to do, about how to even BE a runner.

In this brief series, we’re going to take a look at some of the common mental traps that runners fall into and give you concrete tools and advice to help you develop your own mental reflexes. We’re going to show you actionable skills that you can use to build your own mental toolkit.

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  • Habits and Motivation
    “Motivation is what gets you started. Habits are what keep you going.” – Jim Rohn

    Set Your Intention
    • Action: Write a note to yourself with a plan and intention for what you want to accomplish. I.e. “I plan on committing to this for X days, to accomplish X.” We recommend 14 to 30 days to get these changes to stick, but let’s be honest, even 3 days is better than 0 days and can lead to the next series of habits.
    • Action: Drop a note in your calendar of your intended finish line. Plan to celebrate on your finish with a special treat or act of self-care. This could be that new pair of running shoes or nifty new gadget you’ve been eying. Or it could be a relaxing massage and a nice meal. Either way, you earned it!
    Pull out your weekly calendar
    • Action: Set the time and location for each day you plan on training – whether it’s running, cross-training, strength, or mobility. If you’re in one of our programs, start with the recommended layout and go for there. Think about workouts you’ll do from home or work, at the gym, or elsewhere. What logistics are involved?
    • Important: choose the time of day you have the most control over. For some of us, that’s first thing in the morning before the day takes over. For others who deal with getting kids ready for school, that might be a little later. But either way, treat that time like an appointment that you cannot break! 14 days from now you’ll be glad you did.
    Start with a program realistic to you
    • It could be the Run Cadence Challenge if you’re looking for workouts with a cap of 10 minutes or less per day. Or it could be the 30 Day Challenge if you’re ready to step up with training commitments that require 30-45 minutes. Or it could be our Healthy Habits Nutrition Challenge that requires a daily lifestyle and meal planning commitment.
    • If a program seems too intimidating to commit to right now, you could simply alternate between run, strength, and mobility workouts from the singles library.
    • It’s mentally better to commit to something slightly smaller in scope and build on these successes, rather than to jump into something too extreme and feel like you “failed.” Remember: consistent execution of small daily tasks leads to the big changes in your health and fitness that you seek!
    • Action: Take 10 minutes to honestly assess your schedule, commitments, and training goals. Choose a program to follow or identify the first 3 workouts you want to do from the singles library.
    “Wellness is nothing more than small daily choices that lead up to lifelong, very big changes — that’s it. Anyone can achieve wellness whether that means you’re a stay at home mom or traveling salesman, maybe even juggling two jobs (and marathon training) just to get by. You don’t have to have a lot of money, time, or even kitchen skills because all of us have access to wellness if we choose to.” – Elizabeth Inpyn

  • Dealing with Uncertainty & Setbacks
    “All great achievements require time.” – Maya Angelou

    We all deal with sudden and unexpected changes
    • Sooner or later all runners have to skip a workout or even a week of training. It could be from a family emergency, looming due date at school or work, sickness, or an injury. If that happens a few things to keep in mind:
    • Action: Ditch the all or nothing mentality. A 10 minute run or core workout in your living room (or office!) is a great stress reliever and is long enough for some positive physiological benefits. Most importantly, these mini sessions keep your training momentum.
    Do you feel selfish or guilty scheduling time for yourself on a regular basis?
    • We get it: making time for yourself can feel like you’re making less time for your family, friends, and co-workers. But by taking better care of yourself, the more capacity, patience, and energy you’ll have for everyone else in your life.
    • Action: Schedule the time to care for yourself first! The people who love you will want that for you, and you’ll be setting a good example for your kids and others.
    Be kind to yourself!
    • Take 10 minutes to reflect on the potential good that comes the bad. Sometimes setbacks are really blessings in disguise for your health and wellness.
    • Remember: It’s always easier to return to a training routine once established than to establish it for the first time.
    “Your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” – Kara Goucher
  • Stay Proactive through Injuries
    “An injury is not just a process of recovery, it’s a process of discovery.” – Conor McGregor

    Injuries Suck
    • We won’t mince words: INJURIES SUCK and can feel incredibly dispiriting.
    • In our experience, there’s always something you can do to improve your situation and expedite your healing.
    • We’ve yet to meet the runner who doesn’t come through an injury stronger and wiser if they focus on the right process.
    Can you cross-train?
    • Especially if you catch an injury early, you can swap running with another cross-training modality, i.e. water running, rowing, or an exercise bike.
    • You can follow the spirit of your program by doing your run workouts, drills, warmups, and follow intensity levels as prescribed in your program or workout. You will need to test which forms of cross-training feel the best and don’t contribute to further irritation.
    • If your injury is more exaggerated, you will have to watch intensity more closely but the good news is that the movement and blood flow you get from exercise will help expedite recovery.
    Can you double down on strength training?
    • Many runners are too busy running to allocate time for strength training or to go to the gym. The good news is that now you get to make up lost time and build a body strong and stable enough that won’t deal with the same injuries again. Let’s get to work…
    • Action: Book at least 3 whole body sessions in the gym of 30-45 minutes and daily (or every other day) accessory movement of 10-15 minutes to strengthen specifically weak body parts. Start with the Running Strength Program for gym-based workouts and supplement that with the bodyweight strength workouts included in the program you’re following or want to follow.
    Short runs are better than no runs.
    • Action: Start to introduce very short bursts of focused running for 50-100 meters outside, or 15-30 seconds on the treadmill inside, mixed in with whole-body strength exercises. This process is essential for improving movement patterns and building fitness. For example, add short runs in the middle of your strenth workouts previously discussed.
    Keep it social
    • The worst part about injuries is that they can feel isolating. You’re no longer able to train with your friends and get that much needed social boost to your day or week. You feel you’re being left behind, losing fitness, while everyone else continues to run and get better.
    • Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean you need to put yourself in “time out” completely. Do what you can, with your friends, at the gym. Try something completely different. Modify a workout to fit your circumstances and challenge a friend!
    • Continuing to train with others will keep things fun and it will most importantly get you out of the injury-isolation spiral.
    • Action: Join a group boot camp and meet some new athletes and friends. Invite a running buddy to the gym to do your workouts. Chances are they suffer from similar mobility, strength, and stability issues and would equally benefit from the work. Jump into a spin class and feel the energy of the entire group and lose yourself in the sweat and the music. These social groups will keep your chin up during low points, and they’ll even benefit from the experience you’ve just gained with injuries.
    “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” – Buddhist Proverb
  • New Runner, Training for the First Time!
    “The best time to start training? Yesterday. The second best time to start training is right now.”

    Introduce yourself, and ask for help!
    • Sometimes as new runners it’s common to feel like you don’t yet belong, or you don’t want to bother anyone, but nothing could be further from the truth!
    • Our coaches are dedicated to seeing you succeed. Plus everyone in our community was new once, and they love to support you on your path in the same way other runners have helped them.
    • There’s a lot to learn in running, but there’s no rush to learn it all at once. All of our programs are workouts designed with easy-to-follow advice you can use immediately. Just follow each day as it comes and enjoy the steady progress you make.
    • Action : Take 5 minutes to introduce yourself to the community. Post a photo and let us know what you’re excited to accomplish. Share what you need the most help with or if you have any specific questions. You’ll be surprised by the support and responses you’ll get and the friendships you’ll start to form.
    Start small and celebrate small victories
    • Don’t feel (too) intimidated by runners training for a half or a full marathon and beyond. They started running once, just like you are doing right now, and will be happy to encourage and support you on your journey too.
    • Your training goals are just as important, no matter the distance or experience level.
    • Similar to a baby’s first word or first steps, be sure to celebrate your early victories, like running a whole mile without stopping, or chugging up that neighborhood hill for the first time.
    • When you follow the right process, improvements can come big and quickly, making more experienced runners a touch jealous of all the amazing progress you’re making 😉
    • Action : Take 5 minutes to write down in your journal or post to our community these small victories. You’ll appreciate having these moments to recorded so you can look back on them later and appreciate all the incredible progress you’re making. We’ll all be celebrating with you!
    Establish good habits from day 1!
    • Establishing good habits early on will save you heaps of heartache, injuries, and burnout later on in your running. Most runners stop running because they get hurt or think that running is “not meant for them.” By adding run drills, mobility, and strength into your training from day 1, you’re building a life long foundation of happy running. Plus, you won’t have to spend half the time “unlearning” bad habits that many more experienced runners have gathered along the way.
    • Action : Do NOT skip the mobility, run form, strength, and injury prevention work in the programs. They are equally if not more important than the running, as they are key for building and maintaining a body that will run stronger, smoother, and without pain.
    Fatigue and bad days are part of the bargain
    • Your body will feel sore some days. You’ll feel tired, and something “bad” might happen, knocking you off your intended workout. That’s 100% ok and all part of the process that every runner of every level experiences. We have the resources to solve your problems and keep you on track through these occasional and inevitable low points.
    • Action : Take a breath and reflect on the bigger picture. One bad day is just that, one bad day. Shake it off and you’ll be back to business tomorrow.
    • Share your struggles with us and the group to get the support and encouragement you need. You might just find other runners experiencing the same thing who can commiserate, and others who’ve experienced it before and can help to guide you through.
    Don’t train alone
    • Running at its best is a social sport that brings people from all walks of life together in a special way. It can seem scary at first, but all runners who join a group run, local run club, or invite a friend to run with them are rewarded with laughs, encouragement, and great conversation. Plus, it’s these relationships that can keep you motivated and accountable even on the days you struggle to get out the door.
    • Action : Join a fitness class, boot camp, or run group. Remember, if you’re here, you are a runner too and deserve to train, push yourself, and see progress. Plus you don’t know what other potential runners you’ll be inspiring!
    “You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.” – Percy Cerutty
  • Dealing with Hard Workouts
    “Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’ The answer is usually: ‘Yes’.” – Paul Tergat

    Suspend disbelief
    • We’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to doing something hard. What we believe we can do, what we believe we can’t – both attitudes put limits on what we’ll try.
    • The truth is that we really don’t know what we’re capable of achieving until we go for it.
    • We all have had massive performance breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere. How did we do that? We get out of heads about what we think is possible. We forget about what limits we think we have and give it an honest, best effort.
    • Action: take 5 minutes before your next workout to go into it with an open mind and no judgment. Enjoy the experience of it and immerse yourself in the moment.
    Believe in the power of incremental improvement
    • No runner becomes an Olympian overnight or crosses the finish line of their first marathon. It’s only through consistent workouts that gradually increase intensity or distance do we grow and develop.
    • The worst part about injuries is that they can feel isolating. You’re no longer able to train with your friends and get that much needed social boost to your day or week. Be patient and enjoy the process.
    • Action: In addition to your bigger goals, write down the smaller objectives you’ll need to accomplish to get there. These could be anything from sticking to your daily mobility regimen, to running a certain workout feeling smooth and controlled.
    • Be effort focused. Not time focused. You can still have a great workout even if the clock is not what you expected.
    Focus on form when it counts!
    • When pushing yourself to your limit, your form breaks down, your breathing becomes ragged, and all the ugliness comes out. While it’s ok to push your edges and dip a toe in the sloppy running pool once in a while, spending too much time there can be a big performance limiter and contribute to injuries from poor form.
    • Action: Focus inwards on smooth breathing, on relaxing your shoulders, on driving your hips forward and on landing lightly on your feet. This inward focus will give you a welcome distraction from the pain and it will put you squarely in the driver’s seat. Your running will be more efficient and most importantly you’ll be training yourself to run your best when it counts the most: in those final bone-brushing fatigued miles.
    Don’t do it alone
    • Hard workouts can be long, lonely, and painful affairs when doing them alone. It’s easy to get down on yourself, to let yourself slip, and to burn out. Instead, make these workouts the highlight of your week by doing them with others. Training with a friend can push you, inspire you, and keep you having fun while suffering.
    • Action: Schedule time to run with a friend for your next hard or long run. Even if you only can do this once or twice a month, the company makes a big difference. Failing that, make a special hard workout playlist reserving those special songs that will get you through when you need them the most!
    “A champion is defined by the adversity they overcome.” – Anderson Silva
  • Pre-Race Nerves & Performance Anxiety
    “There’s nothing better than an uncomfortable moment, because in that moment we are incredibly aware of ourselves.” – Michael Gervais

    Where do race-day nerves come from?
    • The nerves you feel are part of your flight-or-fight response. Your palms get sweaty, your heart beats faster, your stomach tied in knots and it becomes hard to focus. Race anxiety sometimes comes from not feeling prepared for the challenge ahead or from putting too much pressure on yourself to achieve a certain outcome. When the event means something to you (it holds some significance) you will tend to increase that pressure even more.
    • Let the nerves come, welcome them in with an open mind and heart!
    • Reframe the butterflies – see them as race-day excitement, not panic
    • Find your happy – think of a time when you were happy and relaxed. Several studies show that runners who thought of a positive memory before racing had a better outcome
    • Stop comparing – Are you looking at the people around you and thinking you don’t stack up? Are you worried about what people will think of your performance? This is YOUR race, not the person next to you, not the friend from your running group, and not the people on social media. Every race is different, every runner is different. You need to trust yourself, trust your training and focus on your own race
    Make it FUN
    • The training was the hard part, the race is your reward. You’ve endured months of sacrifice, early mornings, late nights, sore muscles, missed social gatherings, heavy legs, tummy troubles, blisters, and chafing. Celebrate, because now you get to feast on the glory of the finish line
    • Familiar Faces – never underestimate the power of having a familiar face (or seven) out on the race course. Running is an emotional business and having mom, dad, best friend, co-worker, run coach, etc out there on the course will do more for your spirit than you could ever imagine
    • Games are for grown-ups – play the “I Spy” game and try to read as many funny, motivational, inspirational race signs that you can. Challenge yourself to say thank you to every single volunteer you pass. High-Five as many cheering fans and runners as is humanly possible.
    Make it MEANINGFUL
    • Why ARE you on that start line? #knowyourwhy
    • Write out a 2-sentence statement of WHY you’re racing. Is it to prove to yourself you can do it? Is it to honor a loved one or celebrate a veteran? Is it to raise money for a charity or is it to support a friend? Take these two sentences with you throughout the race, repeat them often and share them with others
    • Affirmations – craft a list of positive statements that build up our strengths instead of feed our doubts
    • Brand yourself – “carry” an item that is a physical reminder of your WHY. A bracelet with a saying on it, a shoe tag with your kids’ names on it, the watch of a friend with cancer who can’t run, a shirt that represents your charity. I like to take a sharpie and write my mantra on one wrist and a bible verse on the other so every time I look down I can see it.
    Make it STING
    • Racing is meant to hurt – acknowledge that you are out there trying to push yourself beyond what you’ve done before. Give yourself permission to suffer.
    • Commit – motivation gets you started, commitment keeps you going. Be all in from the starting line to the finish line. Make decisions throughout the race that are in service to your ultimate goal.
    • Plan – Know the course, know your body and know your training. Find the hot spots and have a plan for how will react to those situations.
    • Be Resilient – When you are resilient it means that there is no demand you can’t meet, no obstacle you can’t overcome and you aren’t immediately defeated in the face of a setback. Where others see obstacles, you see opportunities.
    Make it FLOW
    • Flow State is when your mind is quiet and your actions are deliberate and happen with ease. Go over every detail of the race in your head, ahead of time, from start to finish. Then, when you are running, your mind is clear and you can simply let your body run. The sounds of your breath and the feeling of your feet hitting the ground beneath you are the only physical manifestations.
    • Stay in the moment – stop time-traveling into the past or future, stay right here in the conversation of the race.
    • “Check the boxes” of things that need to happen in the present – breath, posture, cadence, hydration, fueling, and pacing. When you can manage your to-do list during the race, you’re almost guaranteed success.
    “Make the course your playground.” – Lauren Fleshman