How to Improve Your Mindset While Running

Contributed by Erin Garvey, a 2017 Ambassador for the Berkeley Half Marathon. 

While there are tons of people who love running, there are probably many more who absolutely despise it. When I hear non-runners talk about their disdain for the sport, more often than not, their reasons are based in two categories: 1) because they feel like they’re physically incapable of running, much less running for fun and 2) because they think running for fun – when their life isn’t depending on it – is horribly boring. Sound familiar?

Of course, there are obvious physiological elements to running, but the mental side of our sport – figuring out how to train your mind as much as you train your body – is still a burgeoning realm. When we hear about our runner friends who accomplish seemingly magnificent feats, like running enormous personal bests, racing at incomprehensible speeds, or covering what seems like incomputable distances, many of us may feel like there’s no way that we would ever be able to do anything like that. Again: sound familiar?

Hang around anyone who runs for long enough, and chances are high that you’ll eventually hear someone say that “running is all mental.” Many professional athletes enlist sports psychologists to help them get laser-focused on their competition and training, but for the rest of us, there is fortunately a growing market of sports psych-related resources out there that we can use to improve our game.

Running can be empowering and uplifting, but it can also be humbling, demoralizing, and sometimes make you question your life’s decisions. As you hone your physical training for the Berkeley Half Marathon, 10K, or 5K over the coming months, don’t neglect your mental component of training, too. Below, I’ll quickly list some resources that may help you improve your mindset while running:

Read what’s out there. If you’re interested in learning more about sports psych, tenacity, and the idea of grit/grittiness, jump into some excellent reads on the subject. My recommendations: How Bad Do You Want It? (Matt Fitzgerald), Grit (Angela Duckworth), and while not exactly sports psych, Option B (Sheryl Sandberg). Each of those books, and in particular the first, shares excellent accounts of athletes or experts who have deliberately cultivated their mental edge over the years and have risen to world-class greatness.

Power words and phrases. We runners tend to be a little hippy, so it’s probably not too surprising that many runners ascribe a lot of meaning to mantras, power words, or power phrases. The idea is that when the going gets rough in workouts or races, you repeat to yourself a word or phrase that you’ve decided will help you through the rough spots. It can be empowering, and it also requires that you become your biggest advocate and cheerleader, instead of your biggest critic: a challenge for some, for sure. Power words and phrases can include sentiments like I can do hard things, relentless forward progress or, one step at a time. Obviously, they are individual to you, so your power word or phrase will likely be different from others’. Some runners even find that wearing their power words or phrases as a necklace or as a bracelet, for example, gives them an additional boost because they’ll be able to actually see the words when they need them the most. 

Remember your why. Sometimes running is just absolutely awful, and that’s totally okay and normal. Not every run will change your life. When things get really bad, remember what brought you to this sport in the first place. Maybe you wanted to complete a distance one time, as a bucket list thing, and you got hooked; maybe you wanted to lose weight and in the process discovered a healthy lifestyle for the first time ever; or maybe you started running altruistically, as a way to raise funds or awareness for a particular cause that’s dear to you. Whatever your reason, everyone has a “why” in running. We all began somewhere, and we all continue for different reasons. When you feel like your mindset while running has become toxic, remember what brought you to this sport and why you remain in it. Chances are that a little perspective and a little reflection will go a long way, and you’ll suddenly realize that you’re capable of more than you thought.

Just like with physical training, mental training takes concerted effort. Over the coming weeks, as we get closer to race day at the Berkeley Half, 10K, and 5K, take time each week to examine your mental game. Listen to what you tell yourself during your hard runs, and assess where your mental training currently is. Learning what world-class experts and athletes do to become as mentally sharp as possible can be advantageous to you, so consider making it a component of your training so you can show up on race day in fighting shape, ready to roll.  

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