Training Your Brain

The brain has two hemispheres that are separated and don’t interconnect. The left-brain tries to steer us towards pleasure and away from discomfort. The intuitive-creative right side connects us to our hidden strengths.” By preparing mentally for the challenges you expect, you will empower the right side of the brain to develop mental toughness. As we accumulate stress, the left-brain sends us a stream of messages telling us to “slow down,” “stop and you’ll feel better,” “this isn’t your day,” and even “why are you doing this?” When equal athletes compete, it is the one who doesn’t lose focus or waver in their belief who wins. The toughness of single-mindedness I call it.”

First, create a competitive advantage through your training.

Besides the physiological improvement that comes through investing more time in training, you receive a psychological boost if you do a workout that you believe no one else is doing. Hill workouts, negative-split workouts, and short fast repeats at the end of a long run are some of the ways runners look for a competitive advantage.“I used to do a lot of exercises to increase mental toughness.  It was a game I used to play.  Every time I went around a curve in training I went to the outside in training runs so I had to run further.  I always had to take the hardest longest way to build mental toughness.  I chased bikes.  I did sprints at certain places in my training runs no matter how I felt.  Every time I came to that place I had to sprint!  It slowly built up my mental toughness.”
Second, train your mind.

Frank Shorter says, “I think simulating racing while interval training is a good way to gain mental toughness. Imagine yourself in the race situation. Then, when you are actually in it, it will seem ‘familiar.’ Mental toughness is like a muscle that grows stronger through use. Passing someone when you are tired, surging, or starting your kick at a predetermined place—all of these things build mental toughness and make you that much tougher for the next race. You will go hard you are able to embrace discomfort for a manageable amount of time and also to use the element of surprise to appear mentally tough to your competitors. Also, by not playing it safe emotionally, you will start to perceive yourself as a tough runner.Fifth, use your self-discipline to know when to and when not to push yourself. Knowing that you alone decide when to push and when to hold back can relax you and enable you to ration your energy for use at the right time.Where the mind goes, the body will follow. If you wait for the right moment and expect the best in each running situation that requires mental toughness, you will be much more prepared when you have your own “cloud of dust” moment. You will emerge from the other side victorious because you expected to do well based on your preparation. After all, your mind has already seen you do it before and expects nothing less.

Why is it that some runners can perform successfully in practice situations but not during the intense competition period?

 It was found that most mental errors occurred when the athletes had a higher level of anxiety, which was generally found during competition.  Your mind can play a role in how you perform. By mentally preparing and training, athletes can further improve their performances by decreasing anxiety levels before competition. Some athletes who mentally struggle during intense situations are labeled as panicking or choking. Some athletes are flawless during training, but when the stakes are high, they mentally fall apart. There is a difference between choking and panicking.

Choking is when athletes think too much, not letting their bodies do what they are programmed to do. Panicking is when the mind is overwhelmed.
and athletes don’t think about what they are doing (Gladwell 2000). Runners may panic early in the race when anxiety and emotions are high. They may simply not focus on what they are doing because they feel that too much is going on. Panicking can result in starting out a race too quickly. These runners are not focusing on pace or the later part of the race, but instead they rely on instinct and go out too fast with the rest of the crowd. Panicking can be a tricky issue with some distance runners because starting off too quickly in a race can hinder performance in the later part of the race (such as by causing lactic-acid buildup). According to Gladwell, choking occurs when athletes think too much about performance. Runners who constantly worry about racing successfully may fall into this category. Instead of letting your body perform to its level of capability, your mind gets in the way by thinking too much.

Different kinds of self-talk can be used, whether they are instructional or motivational. Self-talk can be a single word or phrase that you say to yourself over and over during competition to assist positive mental thinking (such as run strong or surge). Instructional self-talk can be beneficial because it keeps athletes’ minds on task by repeating what they want to do. For example, a runner may use instructional self-talk by focusing on splits. Motivational self-talk could be used by telling yourself how good you feel.

Choking and panicking strategies

As Gladwell (2000) discussed, panicking and choking are two very different things. As a runner or coach, it is important to know yourself or your athletes so you can effectively control thinking. When runners panic and rely on instinct, it is important to try to calm your anxiety to a lower level and to slow your thinking with positive self-talk. Anxiety can lead to more errors and greatly hurt performance. As a coach, a good strategy is to train athletes by overloading them with distractions. Overloading athletes with distractions during practice may reduce anxiety on race day because it will make race day feel easy and relaxed in comparison. For example, run intervals on a muddy course, run a workout in any undesirable weather conditions, or do a
workout after a few minutes of waiting around. Getting used to distractions may make for less anxiety on the day of competition when something unplanned occurs. While doing intervals or a workout, picture yourself in a race-type situation and use mental skills like self-talk as a practice. Athletes who find themselves panicking or choking should take a deep breath and think about why they are competing. A majority of runners compete simply because they enjoy it. Therefore, if you find yourself panicking, remember why you are out there. It does not need to be a stressful time.


Mental-preparation skills such as imagery, optimism, and self-talk are just a few of the many nonphysical skills that athletes benefit from. As with anything in life, the more you practice something, the better you will become. It is important for athletes and coaches to practice and experiment with
various methods of mental-thinking skills to find what is most beneficial. With a combination of great physical and mental training, distance runners can be prepared to race up to optimal performance.