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Posted: December 5, 2012  :

(IAWR) Athletics: Mental Training To Run and Race Your Best

Many runners underestimate the importance of mental training. They experience negative self-talk when faced with a demanding workout. When feeling fatigue, they tell themselves that it's too difficult. They compare themselves to other runners who look fitter or faster. They doubt their own ability to complete the training.

Prior to becoming our coaching client, Kim McClure (Toronto) had done neither speed work nor had run workouts with goal paces. During some workouts, she doubted her own ability to maintain her goal pace for the duration of the run. She questioned if she could carry out her training.

Kim stuck with it. She soon realized that the workouts were designed to pinpoint her current thresholds and help her break through her self-imposed limits. She correctly concluded that she was not being asked to complete anything she was not capable of. Challenging, yet achievable.

Her tenacity paid off. As a result of overcoming her doubts and completing her challenging program, she approached the start line full of confidence. After just three months of training, Kim reduced her half-marathon time by over 10 minutes (from 1:59:45 to 1:49:18 in the 2011 Hamilton Half-Marathon).

Even elite athletes face the same mental challenges. Franz Stampfl, who coached Roger Bannister (the first man to run a four minute mile), said that 80% of a coach's job is to help with the runner's mental preparation; only 20% involves the physical aspect of running. And we think all elite athletes have their act together!

Here are three strategies that you can use to mentally prepare to run and race your best:

Practice experiencing completing your goal. Go beyond visualization and involve as many senses as possible. Dr. Owen Anderson coined the acronym "VAK" Training --- verbalizing your goal and then experiencing the attainment of your goal Visually, in an Auditory fashion and Kinesthetically (feeling your goal).

Visually -- imagine how you will look as you approach the finish line, taking powerful strides, arms pumping in perfect unison with your legs, a broad smile on your face; see your goal time minus 30 seconds on the overhead clock and the cheering crowds as you cross the finish line, your arms raised triumphantly!

Auditory -- hear your rhythmic breathing as you approach the finish line. Hear the crowd clapping and cheering; hear the announcer calling your name. As you cross the finish line, hear the enthusiastic congratulations of family and friends, all your supporters shouting "You did it"!

Kinesthetically (feeling) -- imagine the feeling of pure joy as you approach the finish line, your body completely alive as you summon and engage all your physical and mental resources for your final surge. You cross the finish line and feel the finish line volunteer putting the medal around your neck and then the warm embrace of your family, friends and supporters. Your spirit soars as you feel the exhilaration and bliss of achieving your objective. This moment is 100% self-fulfillment.

Think of someone you know who has completed a similar workout. Repeat to yourself: "If she can do it, I can do it too!" This simple mantra will shift your focus away from your negative internal doubts and towards positive physical action.

If you are being coached and are following a training program specifically designed for you, remember that your coach would not ask you to complete this challenging workout if you were not capable of it.

It's not possible to discuss every aspect of mental preparation in a brief article. But we guarantee you that by practicing at least a few of these tactics, you will break through self-imposed limits so you can run and race your personal best.

What are some of the ways you handle mental speed bumps during training and racing? How do you combat negative self-talk?

© 2012 Savvy Runner Inc.

Bennett Cohen and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners. For access to resources to help you reach your goals for running and racing, visit

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