It takes a special kind of mindset to be a runner and it’s one that athletes of all disciplines can benefit from. No matter what your distance, running is as much about mental endurance as it is about physical endurance. Developing the right mindset is a key step in levelling up your running performance, regardless of your level.
So, how does a runner think? Well, it depends on how you run…
Anyone who’s ever run a half or full marathon knows that races of this distance aren’t just a physical test but a mental test too. When you’re running long distances, you’re in constant communication with your body, so you’re always aware of what you’re feeling.
Endurance runs leave a lot of time for thoughts, and not all of these are necessarily helpful. “Did I start too fast?” “Are my legs cramping?” “Why am I tired already?” It’s totally normal to think like this; even the most elite athletes aren’t immune to unhelpful thoughts. The trick is to teach yourself how to drown these thoughts out. Long distance runs are about setting a rhythm and sticking to it. Maintaining a constant, comfortable pace means you’re less likely to panic; your thoughts will wander and the kilometers will fly by.
It also helps to practice internal dialogue and to learn how to speak to yourself positively, therefore increasing motivation. Checking in with your technique regularly to make sure that you’re running efficiently and effectively is also a way to keep yourself motivated and driven.
And this doesn’t just apply to races. Particularly when running outside, long distance runs can be a chance to meditate and reconnect with yourself and the world. Allow your mind to wander rather than focusing on every step and every breath; you’ll soon find that you’ve covered a distance greater than you thought.
Different length intervals require different mindsets. But one thing all interval training has in common is that it’s far more about gritting your teeth and grinding through to the end than settling into the calm, passive mindset of endurance runs.
Intervals running requires a “keep pushing” mindset. Aiming to finish an interval at the same pace at which you started it isn’t easy. When you’re at the midpoint of your training, suffering, gasping for air and muscles burning, keep your goals in mind. Think about the feeling after you’ve finished training, when you’ve completed that last tough interval and can give yourself a pat on the back for your day’s training.
It’s important to learn how to remain calm, not panic and to maintain proper technique, even once fatigue sets in. If you’re focusing on technique, you’re less likely to consider giving up.
Whereas endurance running is about ongoing motivation and interval runs require grit and determination, sprinting is all about focus and perfect execution. This is where form matters most; one wrong step could mean the difference between first and last place. Sprinters have to focus intensely for a short amount of time, becoming totally locked into the few seconds they’re running.
A technique used by sprinters and runners of all distances is visualization. This means building a complete mental picture of how you want a race or a run to pan out, from lacing up your shoes to cooling down. Studies have shown that if you visualize something happening, it’s more likely to happen as you have a clearer and more focused goal. For sprinters, this means picturing themselves walking up to the starting blocks, pulling ahead of the field and crossing the line in first place.
But this doesn’t just have to apply to races. In your everyday running training, picturing yourself beating your PB, keeping a constant pace or even just finishing that tough interval can be the mindset needed to actually achieve what you set out to.
You might not think it, but developing the mindset of a runner is a huge step in improving your running performance. If your mind is in the right place, you’re more likely to see improvement, smash PB’s and remain motivated. But the type of running you’re doing matters. Different training methods require a slightly different mindset - not all running is the same - so take this into consideration when starting your Running Training Journey.