Mental Training for Runners

Photos by Marques Jackson.

Running involves a lot more than physical endurance and strength, as your mind is the command center that unleashes your body to perform. Your mind tells you when to push and run harder, when to slow down and when to rest. 

Study after study proves that our bodies can do much more than the average person even attempts. This is true with running as well. When you think about it, other than times of injury or illness, what holds you back in races or on hard training runs? In many cases, it’s your mind. It’s the fear that you’re going too fast and won’t be able to keep it up, or being intimidated by other racers, panicking when you feel pain, or just feeling like you’re not good enough or not a “real runner.”

In the perfect world, your mind would allow your body to perform the amazing running feats it is capable of. But with all the mixed messages we’ve received over the years — both encouraging and discouraging, and some just contradictory — our minds are often confused, and out of tune with our bodies. 

But don’t despair because you can re-train your mind, just as you have trained your body. Here is a plan to help strengthen your mind, so your body is free to run faster and reach higher levels of performance:

Pay attention to your thoughts. In meditation they call this mindfulness. When you go for a run, listen to what your mind is saying. Are you making excuses to yourself? Notice if you have negative dialogue going on with yourself, with statements such as “I can’t,” “I’m slow,” or “I’ll never be fast.” What limiting beliefs are causing you to stay at the same pace or performance level?

Replace limiting thoughts. It will take some time, but start chipping away at the negative scripts that play in your mind on runs. Replace them with positive and encouraging scripts, such as “I am strong,” “I can,” “I am fast,” and “I am tough.” The more you practice this, the more it will come naturally, and you’ll be surprised at how these simple strong statements will manifest in your improved running performances.

Practice focusing. Learning to really tune into your body will help you tune out external factors that may make you nervous or psych you out, such as fast runners, inclement weather or tough running conditions. Stretching before your run is a good time to focus on your body and get revved up for the run. Music can also help you tune out the outside world and focus on your thoughts. And remember, keep them strong and confident.

What methods do you use to train your mind for running?