Train Your Brain (Preview)

Improve your running with these four mental strategies (Non-subscriber preview)


Posted: 13 July 2005
by Martha Schindler

If you're a typical runner, your brain - at least the part that controls your running - is your least-developed muscle. "Runners are usually much more aware of their physical state than their mental and emotional states, which is like trying to run with your eyes closed," says Robert Burton, a runner and psychiatry professor. Training your brain to help you run better isn't difficult, it just takes a little practice. So to help you, we've come up with 10 mental strategies for solving the most common problems faced by runners.

If you're a Runner's World UK magazine subscriber, you can see all 10 right here. Otherwise, enjoy these five as a preview - and if you want to subscribe, you can save 30% right here.

Scenario 1

The alarm sounds for your early-morning run, but the weather's bleak and your bed doesn’t seem to want to let you leave.

What's your brain saying? "You go running - I'm sleeping in."
Should you listen? That depends on your body, not your mood. If you've been overtraining or feel aches, pains and tiredness, roll over and try again tomorrow. But if you're just uninspired, turn off the inner voice - and the alarm - and get moving. "Every morning I get that negative chatter," says Douglas Bell, an advertising executive and recent convert to running. "All that non-stop nagging about how much I don't want to run. I've simply learned to disregard it and head out the door."
Sound advice Commit to running in advance. Don't let your morning run become a wait-and-see proposition. By the time you go to bed, you should have already made the decision to run the next day, especially if it’s an early-morning run. If it helps, line up a training partner and agree to call each other in the morning.

Scenario 2

You're running your weekly long run and not enjoying it. Up ahead is a tempting short-cut: take it and you're home in a few minutes; stick to your route and you have five more miles to go.

What's your brain saying? "This run is too much. Try again next week."
Should you listen? Consider the training you've done and your current energy level, Is this run reasonable or is it asking too much? Experience will help here, because it will help you to discern the difference between exhaustion and a lack of motivation.
Sound advice Be sure to always make your plans specific and you'll be less likely to find yourself negotiating. "When I'm training for a race, I see my training sessions as building blocks," says Patricia O'Brien, an experienced marathon runner arid website editor. "If I don't complete a long run, I'll just fall behind and have to catch up the following week." Of course, there are times to be flexible. If you decide to quit early because you didn't leave yourself enough time for the run, for example, make the most of the time you have left by accelerating your pace or doing some strides. That is, make it a harder session instead of a cop-out.

Scenario 3

You're doing your track session and have no desire to run any more reps. In fact, your only desire is to run back to the changing rooms before heading home for your dinner.

What's your brain saying? Between reps you're sure that a little devil on your shoulder is whispering things like, "Let's go and grab a takeaway, dive on the sofa and watch TV."
Should you listen? Unless you're injured or feeling completely exhausted, the answer is no. Track training is hard to psyche yourself up for and equally hard to finish. The exertion and pain of intervals are harder to handle than the general fatigue of a training run or a long, steady training session - but that's why they're so good for your running.
Sound advice Get creative, suggests Gary Pfitzer, on experienced runner who works in finance. "You're no longer dragging your sluggish bag of bones around a nameless track. Now you're in the Olympics. If you finish this 430M rep in 90 seconds, you'll win the bronze medal. A bit faster, and you'll take home the silver or gold." Or become personal. "I imagine racing people from my work and picking them off one by one," odds Pfitzer. "It helps if I picture people I don't like."

Scenario 4

Your knee has been aching all week, but you have a race coming up, so you’re running and just hoping that the pain will go away.

What's your brain saying? "Stop whining, you wimp. Running is mind over matter."
Should you listen? To your knee? Yes, To that run-through-the-pain idiot in your head? Absolutely not, "This is a clear warning," says Dr Patrick Milroy, RW's medical advisor. "GPs' surgeries are filled with runners who disregarded pain, and were subsequently forced out of the sport." Pfitzer agrees. "I've seen people who've cut casts off to keep running. These people do not stay runners for long."
Sound advice Determine - and stick with - your long-term goal, not just the immediate one. If you've set your sights on an upcoming race, pay attention to all the signs, not just the ones you want to see, If you feel pain for two days or more in succession, stop running for a day or two - or three. That's probably all it will take for your pain to disappear.


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