Top Mental Tips for Runners

If you spent any time with me, with this show Runner's High or my other show to the Smart Athlete Podcast, you know, I like to talk about the mental aspects of running. So today I want to talk about why exactly your brain is holding you back from setting that new PR.
Top Mental Tips for Runners

If you spent any time with me, with this show Runner's High or my other show to the Smart Athlete Podcast, you know, I like to talk about the mental aspects of running. So today I want to talk about why exactly your brain is holding you back from setting that new PR.

As always, I'm Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner's High and if you like running, you should probably subscribe. Hit that button in the bottom right hand corner to stick around with me for new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as, as I mentioned in the intro, that other show I do the Smart Athlete Podcast where you get to hear from other people than me who have a really awesome experiences and ideas to share with you, including mental tips.

I'm kind of on a spate right now of interviewing all these different psychology performance professionals, so there's lots of great content from them, including my new friend Brian Bergford, who is a national national champion in Masters Swimming. He's a sports psychology guy. Also did our sweat test recently and until recently had the high score 1700 milligrams per liter. I'm a little off the rails, but if you want to know more about the sweat test, go to That's a whole other conversation. We'll have another day, but it is a curiosity so check that out.

When we want to talk about the mentality of running. It isn't just a matter of saying, let's go out and run, right? Because we want to set a PR, we have to push ourselves to a limit. Maybe we haven't gone to before. So how do you do something that you haven't done before if you don't necessarily know how to do it? The short version is you kind of got to trick yourself into it by a series of steps.

So you take an incremental series of steps, things that are achievable, and you end up in a place where you maybe would have not previously been able to reach. And a lot of them have to do with adjusting your mind and your mindset. Now I know that sounds a little like woo woo magical and maybe we'll go there a little bit. But most of what I have to share with you is pretty practical tips on how to get better and how to allow your mind to let the floodgates open so that you can become faster and achieve better times with a similar kind of physicality.

And the first one, which is a little on those woo woo lines, is positive self-talk. So you have to make an assessment of what does your brain tell you when things hurt? What does it say to you when you're uncomfortable? Does it say, speaking for myself, Jesse, why are we doing this? We don't have to do this. You should stop doing this. There was a period when I was pursuing my professional license in triathlon when I just hadn't gained enough fitness to race as hard as I wanted to race. And I'd get to the run portion and I would have this negative self talk.

And the thing is that it doesn't assist you. It doesn't help you go any faster. You can actually feel it as a weight on your shoulders, holding you back. So the way to really assess that and then deal with it is, number one, be honest with yourself. Is that happening to you? Do you have that negative self-talk going on when you're suffering? Because we will all suffer when we want to get faster and we want to hit a new PR.

So if you have that happening and you can admit to yourself, hey, this is happening, then you have to begin to practice a positive self-talk. And don't begin when things are the worst. Do it when it's easy. So go out for a long run, something that's comfortable, and give yourself that positive self-talk so that you practice when it's not hard. Hey. Doing great. Your pace is good. You do doing you're running smooth. You're right on time. You're taking it easy. Which is exactly what you need to do today. Perfect. All the things that you need to do are going well.

You begin that practice when things are easy and then you increase it as your tempos increase. So you're going a little bit faster, a little bit more other workout, try to begin self-talk there. So that becomes a natural progression from that easy workout to then also that hard workout. You have that positive self-talk. Another way I like to think about positive self-talk is not even necessarily me encouraging myself. Now, it is in a way, but I'm kind of tricking myself.

And that's where like my inner Ebenezer Scrooge comes out and you go, That's not very helpful. It's like instead of the ghost of Christmas past, it's the ghost of Coach's past. Inside my mind. I've been at this nearly 20 years. I guess it's over 20 years now. I've had a lot of coaches in my time. A lot of them have said very positive, encouraging things to me, things that I've clung onto for years. And I have the ghost of coaches past in my mind sometimes when I'm suffering the most, because I lived through those moments and I hung on to those memories and I use their words as fuel.

Now, obviously they're not there beside me anymore, but I carry them around as positive self-talk so that I don't necessarily have to come up with my own words to say to myself in my own voice. I can hear it in their voice and their mannerism with their energy at the right moment, at the right time, when I know that I need it.

But you may be saying to yourself or to me, I guess it is, Jesse, I don't I don't have a history of coaches like you do. That's okay. The trick around this is that you can actually make up coaches. Are there coaches that you admire? Are there athletes that you admire? Can you imagine them having a positive influence on you? Do you like me? Use the positive words that I might say to you inside your own head that you can do it, that you can overcome, that you can endure whoever it is that you connect with. And it doesn't have to be me, obviously, but whoever it is, you connect with that person, maybe a hero, maybe a coach, maybe a family member, whoever it is, try to think of their voice inside your own head and use that as positive self-talk as well so that you can find little bits of fuel, both from yourself and from others.

Which kind of leads me to the next point, and this is a point I talk about ad nauseam to different guests on the Smart Athlete Podcast, I think including Brian, as I mentioned earlier, which that conversation with Brian, if you want to check that out, I'll link to that at the end of this video. It'll be on the screen, click on that, see all the things we talked about and kind of how to improve your performance from his perspective as a professional who does that kind of thing for a living.

So the point I like to talk about ad nauseam is my concept or my philosophy of the bag of whys. There's this overarching idea in our culture that we need to have a "Why", a singular "Why" that will propel us forward and make us do things that will surprise ourselves. And I'm here to tell you that it's my belief that that's a lie. That one singular why is not enough, which is where the bag of whys comes in.

Because I believe and maybe it's a failing on my own part, but I run this by a lot of people and I haven't had a whole lot of pushback. I had a lot of agreeance that you need multiple whys because any given why might fail on any given day. So if you have a bag of whys, a collection of whys, curio cabinet, whatever object you want to put your whys inside of, you can pull out of that bag. This is the why that's helping fuel me today.

And we talk about how often some people try to use spite or hate as a why, and it can be useful, but only temporarily. It's not going to fuel you in the long term. It's like sugar give you a little boost, but it won't really fill you up and fuel you to do your best work. Your whys have to be a little more deep seated than that.

Is it proving to yourself that you're good enough? Is it what is it that really motivates you? And that's a question that you have to talk to yourself. But I would encourage you to actually physically write these down so that you can kind of coalesce them into actual whys, so that when you are coming up to the point where you're going, I don't know why I'm doing this today, you can remember that physical presence that you wrote, all those words you wrote down in the paper that says, this is exactly why I'm doing that.

And one way to use those whys is to put them to practice. This idea of practice makes perfect, right? But it's also also like perfect practice makes perfect, perfect practice makes perfect something like that. In any case, when we're talking about practicing, you have your whys, you've gone through, you've got your positive self-talk, and now you've got to put it into practice in the real world. And there's no better time than before you're racing to get ready to go and allow your brain to get even stronger. And that means going out when it's terrible outside, when it just not great.

Maybe that means going out when it's hot or going on when it's cold. Recently because I live in the Midwest and our weather is bipolar in the spring in the fall. I went out it had been a beautiful day for a nice, easy, long run. And then the next day I went out and it was 35 degrees and raining for my temple run. But I remembered when I was younger how I use those days as fuel that I decided I made a conscious decision that I'm going to enjoy the things that everybody else hates.

If you suffer from it, I'm going to love it. And that was part of my mental strategy. But beyond that, it goes to my bag of whys. But beyond that, it was practicing in tough conditions. Did my tempo run go as expected? Did I hit the times that I wanted to hit? No, I did not. Because they're not ideal conditions. And that's going to happen. But that happens in races. You don't always have ideal conditions. You don't always feel great in learning how to deal with those uncomfortable situations where things aren't exactly how you wanted them to be, but you're going to push forward anyway.

Practicing that helps you put those wise into practice, puts that positive self talking to practice, and builds resilience in a place where it's less critical. If something goes wrong because you're not racing, it's you can have plenty of training days. There's much fewer of the race days.

And my last tip on how to get your brain out of your way so that you can build more mental toughness and hit that new PR is to spend time practicing the race. There's a couple of ways to do this. The first and easiest is probably just visualization.

Visualize the course, visualize each mile, sit like I sit here in the sun room and spend time with myself thinking, What am I going to do here? How is this going to feel? What adjustments am I going to have to make? What's it going to feel like in my legs? How are my lungs going to feel? And you know, those feelings because of all that practice and that terrible conditions that you did previously, you can visualize those and be ready to go on race day.

But the more practical and I think more realistic way to practice on race day is to do a course preview. This is more important the longer the races and the more varied it is. So we would always do these for triathlons whenever we traveled because, you know, you just you have a practice on them. There's a local race here that I wrote on that course all of the time for my bike. I ran the trails very familiar with it. I did not need to do a course preview for those things, although I would build it into my practice.

But if you're traveling someplace, you're doing a race you haven't done before, it's good to do a course preview, and that can look like a number of different things. The easiest is simply to get in your car and drive the course. That way you're familiar with, Hey at mile 5, we're making a wide right, and it's going to come up to this weird little section and there's a goat sign on the side of the road and you have these mental markers, you know where you are, you know where you should be and that kind of visualization strategy.

Having all those visual cues ready for you without surprises helps you relax and think about it. I think this makes sense if we if we think about the the idea of do you run routes that you run repeatedly and then have you ever run a new route, which takes less time? It's kind of a trick question, right? Because if it's the same distance in the same elevation grade, they probably take the same amount of time, but which feels like it takes more time. The new route, right? The new route always feels like it takes more time because you're taking in all of this stuff when you run a route before, you can kind of go on autopilot a little bit, you're not worried about all the little details, the weird coat sign on the side of the road or whatever it is.

That means if you can let all those extra sensory things going on go, you can relax, number one, and then focus on what you're doing. So that's the other part of why a course preview is so important.

If you have the ability to run a portion of a course or in the case of triathlon ride a portion of the course, or maybe if you're running, still ride, if you have good bike fitness and see the course, you gain some sense of familiarity with it so that it's not such a overload of sensory information on race day. So those are kind of my reasons why your brain is holding you back and how to get you to a place where your brain is no longer holding you back again. The floodgates open and you allow yourself to perform at the next level without gaining more physical fitness.

So if you want more tips on the psychology of performance, all those kind of things, obviously subscribe because I have a lot of different psychology professionals I've been talking to on the Smart Athlete Podcast recently, but in particular, you're going to want to check out my conversation with Brian Bergford it's coming up on the screen here shortly. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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