Increasing your mental strength will pay dividends – not only in your running, but in life in general as well, says Paula Radcliffe
When you first take up running, what gets you out the door is sheer enjoyment. It's this that motivates you to complete your first race (and fans the desire to target your second and third...) and gives you the immense satisfaction of putting a hard-earned tick next to 'goal' in your training diary.
As you become more experienced and begin to get an idea of your potential, you may start wondering if it might be worth complementing your physical training with exercises to strengthen your mind.
In long distance events, the importance of your state of mind in determining the outcome of a race can't be overestimated. Exploring ways of lifting yourself to the next level by increasing your mental strength and, in the process, greatly building your confidence will pay dividends - not only in terms of your running performance, but in life in general, as well.
Optimise your performance
You'll read a lot about cognitive strategies in sport, but far from focusing on the race at hand, less experienced distance runners try to distract themselves with thoughts that take their minds off their tiredness. This can mean, however, that they are less aware of how their bodies are performing.
On the other hand, more experienced runners do the opposite: they try to stay in the moment, focusing on performing as effortlessly as possible. They do everything they can to conserve energy and maintain efficiency, running lightly on their feet rather than pounding the ground hard, and constantly riffling through a checklist of how their body is coping.
Examples might be: unclenching hands and fingers; monitoring footstrike and stride pattern; firing up the glutes properly; ensuring that the arms are swinging forwards and backwards, rather than from side to side; maintaining awareness of hydration levels; observing breathing patterns; working out split times; watching competitors and - in my case - counting in my head to determine where I am within each mile.
This is something that I started doing a long time ago as a means of focusing on where I was within each grass/road rep that was run to time rather than marked distance. I found it helped me to judge and pace myself. As I moved to road races, I learned that breaking each mile down worked well for me.
For a half to full marathon pace, counting three times to 100 roughly equates to a mile: this technique helps me focus on where I am within each mile of the race and has become my technique for anchoring my concentration. I use it to truly stay in the moment.
Find your 'flow' in four easy steps or discover Paula's top motivational tips.
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Extracted from How to Run by Paula Radcliffe (£14.99, Simon & Schuster)