We are all at different places with our running. Some of us are just beginners, while some of us have been running for a long time but never seriously trained for something. There are those of us who are back to training and working towards a goal that they have had in mind for some time and then there are those that just run because they like to run but are not training for anything in particular. No matter where we are at, we have to find what works for us....the shoes and clothes we wear, fuel we use, what inspires us, and even what our mental focus is when we run.
One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the mind of an athlete. In particular, I've been reflecting on what goes on in my head when I am running, racing, and pushing myself to new levels. I think I've always realized the importance of being mentally focused and having images and mantras to get me through tough workouts or races. In high school and college I spent a lot of time visualizing before, during and after my races. I would really try to see myself running strong, achieving my goals, and finishing the race that I was working towards. I have memories of sitting in my room at home with my "in the zone" music in my walkman and meditating on my weekend race. I could see myself winning, breaking the time barrier that I wanted to, having a strong stride, and trying to really feel what it would feel like to succeed. Did all this mental visualizing help? Yes, I think so. It helped me get my mind ready to believe that I could meet my goals and run strong. I was never fully able to push past the mental blocks I had set for myself but I think I got better and better with this as I learned about myself and worked through other things in my life that held me back.
But running isn't always about training for something. In fact, many of us just run because we love to run. We don't always have a time goal or an event we are working towards.
I read a blog recently where someone was trying to get through one of their longest runs yet and they asked for advice on what they could be focusing on to help them get through it. This made me think of all the different things we can focus on mentally while we are running. Sometimes they are total "in the zone" thoughts and sometimes, as we all know, there are those runs that are just an escape and time for us to let our mind wander without all the intense "go get 'em! burn baby burn" thinking.
Here are just a few of the different ways I focus mentally during my different kinds of runs:
Having a Mantra or a Go To Phrase
There are those times when I'm running where I just need to dig deep and push myself. Times where I don't think I can go on much longer or times where I've pushed myself so hard and I can feel myself hit a wall. It is these times where it helps to say something to your self that helps to pull you through. Some of my go-to phrases are:
* You can do this!
* You're better than this Amanda!
* You're strong, amazing, and powerful!
Focusing on Form/Stride
In my current training I'm really trying to make every single one of my runs a time for me to be mentally focused on my stride/form. In my last blog, I mentioned that my training program gives me a new proprioceptive cue (mental images related to my form) to work on every week and eventually I will have worked on them all. The purpose of focusing on these cues and working on each of them for an extended amount of time is so that I can train my brain to do them naturally. I can already feel my form improving! When I find myself getting lazy with my mental thoughts, I can feel my form start to change and I get my mind back in the zone and focus on the cue/cues that I have in my plans. To read more about this, check out this article on Sensory Cues.
A Time For Prayer
Let's face it. Not every run is about having a time, form, or distance goal. When I'm not training for something, running is just part of what makes life good. Like a cup of coffee in the morning or a good laugh. Running is a treat. A time to escape and feed my soul! Many of my runs serve as a spiritual time for me. They end up being a time where I feel God and connect with myself on a spiritual level. I find that I've had some of the most deep and reflective prayers during my runs and I always come back after these runs feeling fully alive!
Letting Off Some Steam and Reflecting on Life
Today was one of those runs that I just had a lot on my mind. I was red hot mad. Angry. Feeling frustrated and needing a major processing of my feeling and thoughts. Perfect time for my 11 mile run. No music, no phone...just me and my mind. I tried focusing on my stride and form but I just had too much steam to let off so I ended up mulling over everything for the entire run. Great outlet for me to think! I usually come to some sort of Ah-Ha moment and return home calm and grounded.
Getting Unstuck or Inspired
I've had so many times where I've been working on a piece of writing, a lesson plan, letter to a friend or some kind of project and I find myself stuck. No matter how hard I think and try to change things up, I'm just at a creative block. During times like these, it usually helps to go on a "getting unstuck" run. Usually my runs during these times help my ideas to start flowing and my block to be unblocked. In fact, sometimes the ideas and energy starts flowing so fast that I've been known to stop random strangers to ask for paper and pen in the middle of my runs so that I can write my ideas down.
What do you mentally focus on when you are running? Speed workouts, races, long runs, easy runs?
Do you always have a goal (time, distance, focus) in mind when you are running?
Do you have a "Go To" phrase or mantra that gets you through the toughest moments in a workout, race, or training run?