Runner’s Clinic: Mind Games

Hey there speedsters. This is the first instalment of The Need for Speed Runner’s Clinic on Sparrow in the Tree Top. I’m on a mission to pick apart the art of digging deep and finishing strong. Join me! Need-for-speed-running-clinic

Running is a mind game. It’s obviously a physical training game, but it’s equally a mind game. I spend so much time physically training for a race, that I often leave this off the checklist until the end, when actually I think it’s where you have to start. It’s almost like a chicken and egg sort of thing; you have to train fast, but you have to know how to let yourself train fast, and consequently be able to mentally push yourself to run faster (without hurting yourself.)

As a disclaimer, when I'm talking about "pushing it", I'm not talking about pushing through actual pain. There's a difference between "pain" associated to an injury and "pain" associated with "This Sucks." And as with all of these posts, I'm assuming you've already established a base-level of fitness. Also please remember that I'm learning from you guys too - I'd love to hear your feedback and anything that you've practiced to help divide and conquer from within!

Here are five steps that help me train and help me keep the pace up when my mind is telling me "slooowww down. this sucks."

1.       Mind over matter: aka, loving the hurt.  My best friend is having a baby and recently my sister, who is a mid-wife was explaining how to mentally prepare for what will be the most difficult, arduous and painful (yet most rewarding) process you’ll probably have to go through. My sister was explaining that you have to embrace contractions; because the more you fight them, the tenser your body will be, and the more intense the subsequent contractions will be. You're also supposed to tackle one contraction at a time and when one is over, you move onto the next with the idea that the pain of the process is helping you to bring your baby into the world. Ok before all the mothers out there freak out on me – I get it, you can’t compare anything, let alone running to childbirth. But if you’ll allow me for a moment, I’d like to offer that a) if you’ve had a baby, you can run faster, because let’s just face it, having a baby is carte blanche to assuming you can conquer anything; and b) pushing yourself when you run is the fine art of convincing yourself that it will all be worth it. 


Mind over matter in action looks something like this:

  • - You have to want it, more than you care about the pain of enduring it (or better yet, you don’t see it as “pain”)
  • - You have to know that when you push it, you’re once step closer, literally, to achieving your goal.
  • - When I’m running and I feel that “I don’t want to do this” creeping up on me, I try to say to myself, “yes you do want to do this. And you’re running today because you CAN do this.”
  • - When it comes down to it, my mind goes over matter every time I go out the door for a run, because the matter of it is, I could choose to sit at home or do anything else instead.

 2.       Finding your balance : Runners, inside your mind, you have to find your balance. Have  you ever struggled to do a headstand? You’ll wobble around and then all of a sudden it just all pulls together in an a-ha moment when you find your centre of gravity? With running it’s the same thing when you find that right level of intensity. For me, it's the speed for the most part that I train at (minus when I'm doing actual "speed work" in which case your level of intensity is higher) and it's the speed I usually race at. For example, my best 10 km time is double my 5 km time and that pace is the same pace I run the half-marathon at. If you're looking to find that right level yourself, I'd say it's about 5% higher of an intensity that you are currently "comfortable" running. You need to take a good hard look at your pace now, and make the choice to step it up a natoch. For me, I believe that training at this pace is what helps me keep this it up when I'm putting it to the test.

3.       Unleash the Beast: I wrote about this for one of the Runner's Tell All Series before, but the most influential thing a running coach ever said to me was that I "Had Guts." I had no clue what this meant until I was older. Running from the guts is, at it's most basic, the desire to just "go for it." What I think people often overlook is how closely the mind is connected to the guts and heart. If you can train your mind to step aside, you can let your guts and heart do the talking. And if you’re here reading this, it means that running faster is on your heart. So after you've found that balance, you have to let your guts do the talking.

 4.       Be Grateful: You know what? Gratitude goes a long way helping you when you’re running. I go through all the people in my life and concentrate on why I’m thankful for them. And then I sing praises that I’m young and running. And that my legs are carrying me. And I just thank-God that he’s given me the gift of running and the gift of health and vitality. And when I’m done that, you know what? I want to keep running some more. And usually I've got more spring in my step.

 5.       Checking out: Now that I've been preaching mind over matter and meditating on being grateful, I'm gonna go out on a limb and tell you, when you find your balance, sometimes the best thing you can do is put yourself on auto pilot. Keep that pace up, and let your mind wander. For me, this is easy, since I have an overactive of a mind, which works to my detriment when I'm trying to fall asleep. In my opinion, and overactive mind is pretty much the best thing a runner could ask for if they're looking for distractions. Right now I'll start thinking about wedding-related to-do lists and the next thing I know I've run another 2km.

And that's a long winded intro to a topic that I hold near and dear to my heart! Remember, speed is relative to whatever pace you're going at now! For some runners a good first step isn't trying to be "fast" is acknowledging that you can be faster!

I would love to hear from you if you found this helpful (Or even if you think I sound crazy uninformed!) in the comments section below!

Next Week's Topic? Physical Training! This is one I need a lot of work on so I'm looking forward to exploring the topic!