Feb 9th, 2021
In today's episode, coach Jessica Marie Rose Leggio talks with sports psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor on the importance of adding mental training into your running regime. Dr. Jim Taylor offers a wealth of knowledge on a vital overlooked side of running. Be warned; this podcast dives deep into your subconscious fears.
Are you mental enough for running?
All runners know that running is as much a mental sport as it is physical. Your mindset supports your motivation for the countless hours of training and translating that work on race day. Yet, despite its importance, most runners don't consider training their minds.
You may be a runner that does 'mental stuff.' This realization could be visualizations or the positive affirmations that keep you going when your run. These things help motivate you to get out the door each day, stay positive, manage pain, focus, and reduce pre-competition anxiety. But there is a massive difference between doing 'mental stuff' and mental training.
When to start mental training as a runner
Like injured runners seeking out a physiotherapist once their bodies blow out, athletes typically seek a sports psychologist once they have a problem. However, you want to approach mental training in the same way as physical conditioning for running. Mental training should be comprehensive, structured, and consistent. That's what a running program does, and that's what your mental training should look like.
Are you running from or towards something?
Runners are generally running from something or running towards something. Running towards goals help people thrive and grow. Whereas running from something entails fear and doubt. Unfortunately, many runners are running from something.
While it is often not discussed, an underlying reason people run in the first place is to run away from failure. Paradoxically, one way people avoid disappointment is not to have to run.
"The excuse of an injury often comes from an unconscious desire to protect yourself from failure."
People may use the injury to protect themselves from admitting that they may not meet their goals. While it may not be a conscious decision, this self-defeating behavior often leads runners to injury.
Overtraining is often a clear sign of this fear of failure. Overtraining gives the athlete an excuse when they don't perform well, and in doing so, protects their self-esteem. Not being able to perform on race day due to an epic training regime may seem heroic. Still, it doesn't reflect a successful and fulfilled runner.
Aim for prime performance, not peak performance.
Peak performance is a phrase runners throw around like confetti at a wedding. You hear it in the business world, you listen to it in education, and listen to it endlessly in the running industry. Yet no one questions this term, except Dr. Jim Taylor. As he notes, peak performance is not a great way to frame your approach to running. Long-distance running requires consistency, not a tremendous one-off performance.
"When you get to the peak, there is only one way to go and that's down. No one likes to have a day when the wheels fall, whether it is a training day or a race."
Whereas prime performance is about performing consistently well under the most challenging conditions. What makes great runners great is not that they can occasionally perform. It's that they can always perform in challenging situations.
It's easy to run well on a flat course when it's 50 degrees and sunny. Yet, how often do we race under those conditions? Rain, snow, extreme temperatures and headwinds often get in the way of these ideal race conditions.
"If you perceive adverse conditions as a threat, it's not going to be a good race. But if you can go into the race and say, I trained in these conditions, I'll make some adjustments, bring it on, it becomes a very different experience."
So next time you are hesitating to lace up for your run on a rainy winter's day, take it like a stoic and consider it a crucial component of your training. Each run in unfavorable conditions trains your mind for prime performance whatever the weather brings on race day.
How to stay positive in the long run
A runner's identity embodies more than exclusively running. It is essential to create balance in your life and have other things.
"When you get out of that dark place and run towards the light it is a much more enjoyable experience that is so much more fulfilling and rewarding."
There are many tactics runners can use to achieve a positive mindset. You can get into counseling and therapy, but often embracing other aspects of your life will help. Insight, self-growth, and just only letting go of the junk that we collect as we grow up is a journey we are all on.
Take away lesson
Runners need to re-orientate their gaze on what success looks like. Fear is in one direction, success the other. So many people use an injury to avoid failure. Instead, runners should ask themselves what success looks like.
"Be realistic, we don't always achieve our goals in running. But that misses the point of running. It's the process, it's the journey. It's the joy of the experience."
Every runner will experience a time when life threw a wrench into their work towards a goal or race event. Rather than lament what could have been, it would be best if you focused on working with what you've got in any given circumstance. Suppose you made it across the finish line, fantastic. If you did not finish, you listened to your body – and that's a win in the #RunPainFree book.
5:18 – The importance of sports psychology for runners
8:38 – Are you running from something or towards something?
10:48 – Definition of Prime Performance
16:32 – How to stay positive in the long run
KEY LEARNING POINTS
Create a deliberate mental training practice
Have multiple running goals in every race and training session
Aim for prime performance, not peak performance
Running is about the journey, not the finish line.
Get a one on one Complimentary Consultation with Jessica:
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Visit Dr. Jim Taylor's website for books and resources: