I know you’ve all heard the adage that “running is 90 percent mental and the rest is physical.” I’m not sure if that ratio is exactly correct (it feels a lot more physical to me), but I do agree that there’s more than a little psychology involved in running.
Six miles can often feel farther than 10?
Twenty km sounds harder than a half marathon?
I can run 18 miles but can get out of breath just thinking about walking up the stairs?
Oh sure, some of it has to do with physical readiness. But I’m here to tell you that mental preparedness is as—if not more—essential.
Herewith, my rules for getting your head on straight before running:
- Don’t think.Schedule your workouts if at all possible. Mornings work best for me because nothing can get in the way. I operate on automatic pilot. Dress, drive, run. No thinking allowed.
- Think. I find I do best if I imagine my long runs in detail. I can tell you early in the week if a long run on Saturday will be good or bad. For me, it has to do with how confident I feel on Monday about Saturday. Visualization techniques have long been used in competitive athletics. I don’t know how exactly it works … I just know that it does. So imagine yourself running that long mileage with a smile on your face. It just might happen that way.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. I still remember my first 20k like it was um … three weeks ago. (It was three weeks ago.) I was afraid of racing that distance and was once again tempted to treat the race as a training run. But I remembered the words of my mentor and coach telling me I can do more than I think I can, that I had such long legs, that I was built for running. Who knows if she was lying? Who cares? Her words gave me the stamina and courage I needed—exactly when I needed them. And I had the time of my life.
- Lose the losers. Similarly, you don’t need to be around people who doubt your abilities. You don’t need to read articles or comments on running boards from people who are critical of your achievements or speed or athleticism. When you’re new to running, unless you are blessed with an abundance of confidence and natural ability, harsh comments can really cause you to doubt yourself. Don’t go there.
- Sign up for an event. Sign up for several events! And make sure one is just beyond what you think you can do. I ran my first 10 miler last spring, never having run 10 miles. Until I crossed that finish line I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it. But I did. Finishing a distance you never thought you’d be able to run is an amazing confidence builder.
- Learn to forget. Forget yesterday’s rotten run. It’s a new day and you get a free do-over.
- Remember. Learn from yesterday’s rotten run. What went wrong? Not enough sleep? Too many weeks of junk food? Whatever it is, if you can isolate it, you can learn from it.
- Whatever you do, don’t wear headphones.
- Whatever you do, make sure you wear headphones.
- You’ll never find your answers in a list. That’s because you need to experiment and come up with your own ways to prepare mentally. Pick and choose those things that sound right to you. And then follow your intuition.
As with most things, there are levels of mental preparedness. I’m calling a general Code Red for myself. What level are you at?