Mental Training Tips

By Team RunRun Coach Keith Laverty

I know many runners love to pour over the numbers when thinking about their physical training: the numbers of miles, vert accumulated, paces, heart rate, and so much more. But how much effort and forethought do we invest when it comes to training the brain? While many of the following tips can come more into play in ultra distances or a 12-hour timed event like our partner event,  the Little Backyard Adventure, I think many of these can still be just as applicable and useful for gearing up for shorter events like the 5k or 10k.The mind matters a ton when it comes to endurance sports! 

Did you know that an athlete’s motivation and perception of effort are the main drivers of performance? The Psychobiological Model of Fatigue states this and when we invest more time into improving our mental skills, we can access a greater % of our maximum physiological capacity, with improved areas of grit or resilience for instance. This helps us prove the true connection between mind and body! 

A lot of mental training really boils down to managing stress responses and being more self-aware. This is not simply trying to “block out” any emotions that naturally arise but rather, acknowledging those emotions and being prepared ahead of time of how you’re going to react to those emotions. This is not a skill of preventing emotions altogether but how we’re going to react to those emotions when things feel tough or when self-doubt creeps into our psyche. Mindset matters! 

Let’s cover some a few tips and strategies:

  • Think about your “why’s” to running. How do these align with your general core values? What intrinsically motivates you? Identifying these will often go a bit farther compared to an extrinsic motivator (but these are still great too!)
  • Building sustainable confidence. Where can you draw confidence from in your previous experiences in either running or even other hard things you’ve navigated through? 
  • Positive thinking. Feed the good wolf! Studies have supported that runners who stay positive (including smiling!) and not tear themselves apart, tend to go on and eventually have better finishes in races. When it comes to negative self-talk, the most helpful question to ask yourself is, would you tell the same negative feedback to a friend if you saw them running by?
  • Imagery and visualization: In the weeks and days leading into a goal, visualize yourself in a positive state or encouraging cues. Smooth running mechanics, gliding over the roots and rocks, having a strong finishing kick… you get the picture! 
  • Chunk it! Break up your race into smaller chunks; focusing on one chunk or even one mile at a time, and running the mile that you’re in.
  • Vary between associative (inward focus) and dissociative (external focus) throughout a race. Examples of associative could be doing a self body scan, checking your running form and paying attention to your breathing patterns. Examples of dissociative could be listening to music, counting numbers, or feeding off the energy of the spectators!
  • Write down and track your goals, including the process and mental training goals! When you’re working through a tough challenge during training or trying to get through a rainy/cold run, use that as a chance to practice your mental skills and think about what worked to help you carry on!
  • Pick 1-3 mantras or quotes that resonate with you! Here are a few that might just stick for you too:
    • “Embrace the discomfort”.
    • “You’re strong, you’re familiar with doing hard things.”
    • “Trust YOUR process.”

The bottom line is that your mental game matters A LOT when it comes to racing. If you’re going long or if you’re racing short and fast, the way you think about yourself, the challenge, and how you deal with adversity all have a huge impact on the outcome. Set yourself up for success by investing in your mental training just as much as you invest in your physical training. See you on the trails!

seattle running coach

Keith Laverty is a coach with Team RunRun and he’s run his fair share of ultras where he’s practiced these mental tips. To learn more about him or to work with him, check out his coach profile.