Summer Time for a Change
What do you think about when you run?
I got to thinking last month about what do competitive and non-competitive runners think about on a run. The thought came as I was finishing up my first interval workout in about two years.
It has been years since I have trained for a competitive footrace. In my last writing, I alluded to the fact I needed to do some changes in my training pattern since it has become too routine and I feel as though I am losing my running mojo.
I was finishing a simple workout of 8 x 300m with 1:00 minute rest between each. It was a slight moral victory in that I had set out to do 6 x 300m, but decided to challenge myself. On the seventh 300, my mind drifted. I daydreamed about something unrelated to the task at hand. I lost my focus. I was not in the moment. I snapped out of it in the last 100m and mentally got back into the workout. The mental lapse resulted in my second-slowest interval time (My slowest was my first attempt).
Competitive runners need to be in the moment most of the time when it comes to training and racing. It is important that a runner be constantly aware of how the workout or race is progressing and be attuned to how one is feeling and responding to conditions. There are a lot of variables to consider and one cannot be mentally napping and expect a good outcome.
The time to take a mental break during running is on those easy days, recovery days, and “off-season” runs. These kinds of runs are where you enjoy the experience and you may think about “stuff” not related to the moment.
During my high school days, my father kidded me about running and that it did not require a lot of skill. I shot back that to be a good competitive runner had to be mentally strong.
So, what do YOU think about when you run?
If your answer is “nothing,” then that may explain a lot if you are disappointed with your training or racing results. Perhaps the smallest change with the greatest impact on results might just be how you think when you run.
Over the years, I had teammates and athletes who I have coached who faded on workouts. In some cases, it had to do with their lack of physical condition. In other cases, it was simply they psyched themselves out.
A typical example can be a workout like 16 x 400m repeats. If one dwells on the 16, some may become overwhelmed by the total number. They may make it through the first eight with no problems, but mentally continue to think about the 16 total rather than the eight remaining.
There is an old expression, “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time!”
When I was training, I always focused on the moment. If I was doing 16 x 400m, I took them one at a time. When I neared the end of a workout – say I had four repeats to go – the one I was getting ready to do I would consider done and I would think I had three remaining. It was a mind trick that I found to be helpful on tough days.
My toughest challenges were the long runs – anything over nine miles – and racing over 5K distances. If I was trying to run a steady pace throughout my long runs, I had trouble staying in the moment and maintaining focus. On my good days, I would not be as mentally sharp during the first mile or so. As I got into the run, I would sharpen my focus by checking my pace, rhythm, stride, form, and breathing. If I was having a great workout or race, I was more mentally engaged in what was happening in real time. Basically an enhanced runner’s high!
Whether you are a competitive or non-competitive runner, it is important to maintain mental awareness when you are running for enjoyment, accomplishment, and safety. For example, I’ve tweaked my ankle a time or two over my more than 40 years of running when I was mentally adrift. But I’ve prevented countless ankle turns over the years because I was focused on my running in the moment.
Next time you run, put some thought into it. You may find your mind will matter!