Longer Run Training: Training the Mind

Training to run ever longer distances is tough. It’s 20 weeks now until my target longer run – the Brighton Marathon in April 2019. The key element of the training, building up to your target distance, is the acknowledgement that you’re working on three major elements.

Training to be physically ready for the distance you’re planning to run, training to have the technical capability to run that distance. However, I think it is the third that is often the most critical in truly enabling you to get through the training and achieve that target distance.

This third aspect is often tucked away in the background, perhaps little realised, always present, familiar, often comforting, but will often become completely obvious as key points in any of your longest runs. It’s about your mental side, or your self-belief to actually complete the longer distances as you build up to them.

Much of your training is actually about training this self-belief to actually believe you can complete what you set out to do. Whatever the distance there will always be a part of that longer run where the self-belief wanes, subsides, drops, perhaps even appears to disappear completely. It’s inevitable that it will come and there will be a time in a longer run when the mental side starts winning, where your non self-belief comes to the fore.

We have a tendency to forget these times very easily, but I’m sure everyone, if you think hard, is able to recall when these have arisen. Try to think about some of those now, is it in every run? Or in a particular type, or distance, of run?

Mine was in the 2016 Brighton Marathon, super hot and I’d gone off fast but felt good. Then it seemed to change, positivity turned to total negativity, and the questions rocketed through why was I doing this?

How can I possibly keep going when it’s so hot?

What if I just ease up, stop even?

Well whatever the questions the first step to managing this, working through it, is accepting that it is inevitable. Accepting this enables you to be prepared for it, and importantly train for it.

Before we get to a suggested strategy for reigniting your self-belief it’s worth considering some useful insight. Insight from the greatest contemporary marathon runner – Eliud Kipchoge. He’s the current world record holder for the Marathon and in doing so ran the last 17km of the race by himself. He also shares significant details of his training and insight on how he manages this phenomenal talent through his training.

I’m not using him because I’m suggesting we can all be Eliud, I know my capabilities very clearly. Yet he can provide some really helpful pointers on the ways of using training to sustain self-belief. A key part of his philosophy behind his running is his focus on consistency, discipline, and working with the mind to achieve success.

In an Athletics Weekly interview after the 2018 Berlin Marathon he identified that belief is key:

Of course, training is important. But more important is the passion you put in it. You have to strongly believe that you are able to make it and be able to run this distance. That’s the magic of a marathon.

However, he also identifies that freeing his mind is also a key component of his success as he sets out:

I want to run, with a relaxed mind.” NYT Interview 2018

But what he has also identified is his enjoyment in running and that he uses that to retain his self-belief by focusing on that enjoyment:

When I run, I feel good. My mind feels good. I sleep in a free way, and I enjoy life.

This is strongest for him when he spoke about his success in his 2017 Oxford Union Speech he said:

Personally, I believe in what I am doing. To run a big marathon and win, it takes five months. When I am on the starting line, my mind starts to think of what I have been doing for the last five months. I believe in my training. I treat myself as the best one on that line because my mind is telling me that I am the best and I believe in what I am doing in the last five months. I can run free. I can run free and that’s what actually has helped me to be successful.

You can watch the full speech here.

And yet the mark of the man is perhaps best shown in this quote taken from a New York Times article in 2017 it observed

“Kipchoge has a habit of smiling whenever pain sets it. Pain, he said, is nothing more than a mind-set. So he distracts himself with other thoughts — the joy of running, the finish line ahead. Then the pain fades.”

So use the training to distract yourself from the non self-belief, then it and the pain will fade.

But what about that strategy?

So when that time comes try the following:

  • Acknowledge non self-belief is there, it’s bubbling up, perhaps focus on a reason for it coming up?
  • Try to reset your mind.
  • Focus on some controllables – your arm swing, leg speed, pacing and timing.
  • Refuel /Hydrate.
  • Try distraction by focusing on things around you.
  • Think small targets, next lampost, next km, next road crossing/traffic lights.
  • Try a mantra, your power words, your voice of inner strength.
  • Recall your personal goals, your rewards you’ve promised yourself.
  • Then review and repeat from the top.

So that’s the strategy, now to start using those longer runs to get it tested out.

Find your joy, run strong.

Other related blog posts you might find useful:

Mind Matters – https://simontannerrunning.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/mind-matters/

Mantra – https://simontannerrunning.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/mantra/

Going into Your Head – https://simontannerrunning.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/theres-something-about-the-18th-mile/

About Simon Tanner

Nine time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6, London x2, and Manchester x1, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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