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Mind Over Matter: the mental game of running

Posted Mar 03 2011 11:03pm

Everyday at work, I look up from my desk to see the following quote:

The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy… It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.
Jacqueline Gareau (1980 Boston Marathon Champ)

This is one of my absolute favorite running quotes, particularly as it applies to marathoning. I think it so accurately captures the old adage that “running is 90% mental, and the rest is physical.”

It’s that mental aspect of it all that makes running so dang tough. You can be in the best physical shape of your life, but if your mind isn’t into it, chances are you’re not going to have a great run. And you’re probably not going to get very far, either.

Marathon training is as much about building mental toughness as it is about developing physical strength. And believe me, after you get through a solo 20 mile training run, you feel as though you could conquer the world.

pre race.jpg

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the how much my mind affects my running. And how the heck I managed to do so well during my half marathon , on a day when I least expected it. I was reminded of Corey’s recent sport psychology post about emotion and performance . The way you’re feeling on race day can have a huge impact on how you do overall.

While good physical preparation is definitely important, I think people too often over-look the mental part. When I think back to the times I have done the best in races, they haven’t necessarily been just because I was feeling strong physically. At the end of the day, my mental state (including my emotions and overall beliefs about how I could do), have had just as much impact as my physical one. The first time I qualified for Boston, I stood on that starting line filled with excitement. I was nervous, too, of course. But mostly I just felt happy to be out on a beautiful course on a beautiful fall day, and I couldn’t wait to start running. I felt awesome through the first 23 miles (the first and last time that has ever happened!) and was fueled through the last 3 not because I wasn’t tired, but because I was so excited that I was going to meet my qualifying goal.

LB Bay State.jpgThis was around mile 22 – I really was feeling that good!

It’s never a perfect formula (sometimes I have bad days for no apparent reason) but over the years, I’ve found a few key themes that have given me a strong mental edge on race day.

This might sound like it relates more to your physical strength, but the truth is, when you feel prepared for the challenge, chances are you’re going to feel more confident. And when you’re confident, you’re much more likely to succeed.

A little anxiety on race day is a good thing because it’ll make you run faster. The trick is to not let it paralyze you. Don’t get overwhelmed with anxiety or let the nerves create doubts in your mind. Remember that you are prepared (#1) and that these nerves are your friend – they’re going to help you run faster than you even thought possible!

To be perfectly honest, last weekend I was more nervous about making it to the bathroom before the start than how I was going to do in the race. The fact that there was no pressure was probably one of the biggest things that helped me do so well, because it didn’t even get me the chance to get carried away with nervousness.

I have made no secret about my love for running to music. I strongly believe that a good playlist can be a tool that transports you to another place, and give you wings to fly.

Exhibit A:

LB Hyannis_musicShhh….don’t tell capstone….

I spend a lot of time crafting the perfect playlist before races, and from the above photo, you can see it pays off – I’m clearly rocking out (most likely to my current obsession ). During races, my favorite songs to listen to either a.) have a good beat; b.) have a fun chorus; or c.) build up to an awesome crescendo.

Some tunes that I’m absolutely loving on my runs right now are:

Black and Yellow – Wiz Khalifa and We R Who We R – Ke$ha because of the beat

Dog Days are Over – Florence and the Machine and Rolling in the Deep – Adele because they both have a great chorus

Waiting for the End - Linkin Park and pretty much anything by  Mumford and Sons because they have amazing crescendos


Tonight (I’m Loving You) – Enrique Iglesias and Marry You – Bruno Mars just because they make me want to shake my booty!

Sometimes we get so caught up in the stress of performing well that we forget that racing is supposed to be a celebration – of all your hard work, your dedication, and of running itself! Our bodies can do some pretty amazing things. Don’t lose the joy of racing.

Becky RTB.jpg

Not every run is going to feel awesome, and they certainly won’t all be easy, but when you approach a race as something fun, chances are you’re going to feel better than if you’re filled with dread.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it really is mind over matter. All you have to do is believe in yourself. Just like the Little Engine That Could , if you think you can, you will.


( Source )

Still not convinced? Here is a really interesting article from Running Times about just how much power your brain has when it comes to running .

What mental strategies do you use to help yourself through a tough run or a race?

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