To run and race your best it’s critical you’ve got the right mindset. Dr. Jim Afremow has made it his mission to help runners and athletes of all sports hone their mental training. Just as important and the physical workouts, an athlete’s mind can create a champion or turn into one’s own worst enemy. I wanted interview Dr. Afremow both because I respect his body of work and level of expertise and also because, let’s be honest, the psychology of our sport in straight-up fascinating! Often time elite athletes have trouble putting into words exactly how they get into gamer mode…so read on to hear a mental game’s coach put words to the ability:
Everyone wants to run faster, right? Part of getting faster is of course doing the shorter repeats; one must build that explosive power of course. BUT, there’s another part to getting faster and it’s training your BRAIN and nervous system to respond at a quicker rate.
A runner can’t utilize that explosive power to run faster without the nerve and synapse networks first being created to ‘tell’ your foot to move faster off the ground. Isn’t science and the brain cool?
For runners, finding that perfect taper and method to peak right sure can be difficult! Which sounds kinda crazy because taking the taper at face value, one could think, “Well, I just need to cut back. I’ve done all the work, so let’s just coast on until race day and wind up with fresh as daisy legs!”
Now my younger brother’s first love is rugby, second is football, but for the three weeks between seasons he decided to do track! Wahoo…I was stoked!! I’m also in awe of the fact that he doesn’t do any speed-work and then just blitzes those 400’s and 200’s like they’re nothing.
The mystery is solved as to where all of the fast twitch muscle fiber genes in the family went. Clearly all were saved and concentrated into the youngest Chock sibling. Oh and I guess he stole my coordination genes too.
Let’s talk fear. Okay, I’ll break the silence and let you in on a dirty little secret: EVERY runner has fear. Regardless of how fast they are, how much they’ve accomplished, the Gold medals sitting in those shiny cases…every, single, runner has fear.
Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that you WANT something. You have goals, you want to hit them and you’re scared/nervous/anxious because if you fall up short…then what? Fear merely proves you have goals that MATTER to you.
With running there is also the fear of the pain. BAM. I just touched on the TWO big taboos runners are never to speak of in the span of less than 150 words: fear and pain. Knowing that pain is going to be there, that you’re going to have to be mentally tough and push through that pain, that you’re NOT going to let that pain break you…that’s also where a large part of a runner’s fear comes from. And it also explains why, every runner, regardless of how good they are, be they professional or back of the packer will harbor some ‘fear’…every runner goes through pain. It’s part of our sport.
Sometimes a runner’s already won the race before the gun’s even goes off. Questions. Doubts. Insecurities. None of these belong at the starting line; starting line of a race or a workout. A runner needs confidence. NEEDS it… no amount of physical endurance, speed, or fitness can make up for it.
Lately it feels like my brain is running way faster than my legs could ever keep pace. That’s a darn shame, because one would certainly opt for running a new PR rather than mentally shouting, “SHUT UP!” to your brain at 2am and imploring it to go to bed.
Speaking of PR’s, track racing season is getting to be in full swing. Some people have a bit of a phobia when it comes to the track, others find the monotony of double-digit laps, well, monotonous. The thing with track though, is it BLEEDS speed…as a runner, how can you not love that?
Each distance is unique, duh, the number of laps to the race you’ll be running presents its own challenges. The ratio of speed to endurance, the contrast between utter lactic ONSLAUGHT from the gun versus the more gradual building of the pain in the 10k. Both grueling, just in a different way.
The runner’s warm-up is a unique time. Before a hard workout, and even more-so for a race, there’s a lot that needs to happen both physically AND mentally.
A warm-up tells your legs to ‘wake up’ because they’re about to start running fast. Gradually notching down the pace, starting with the relaxed running, prepares the legs, rather than a complete SLAP in the face…the shock of a hard 400 off the bat. Got a bit of the lazy bug or backwards thinking towards the warm-up? (ie: Thinking that you’re ‘saving energy’ for the workout/race is backwards logic…hehe)
* Physiologically: Those super expensive cars can brag about going 0-60 in seconds, but your body doesn’t work that way. Sort of like you wouldn’t want to get ripped out of bed and chucked into the middle of a tempo run, your legs need time to adjust to, “Okay, time to run,” then “Okay, time to run FAST!” The science behind it can get wordy, but basically muscle function and glycogen burning (sourcing energy) works most efficiently when done through negative splits. Start slow (ie: running a warm-up) and work into those faster paces.
Running is tough. Racing is tougher…downright painful. The brain has a funny little way of dealing with that pain, it gets sneaky and tries to coax us into slowing down.
Runner Brain: “I want to run a PR, dang this hurts, but I’m going to put the work in and stick this out.”
Annoying Tired Brain: “Well, fine, if you’re not going to listen to my complaints and willingly slow down I’ll just find other ways to trick you into it!”
Oh the brain, you slippery little eel, you.
Unless you’re racing on a track, there’s SOME kind of terrain you’ll need to be prepared for come gun-time. Even during track season athletes have much to gain from varying the terrain on their workouts.
- Power and Speed: Hills build strength and when taken to flats that translates to speed. That same kind of logic applies to doing repeats on grass, the times may be ‘slower’ but you’re working harder and building strength.
- Injury Prevention: Running on softer, more forgiving surfaces helps reduce impact and thus lowers your chances for injuries in the long-term.
- Diversity: Running is a very repetitive action and mostly only working in a single, horizontal plane. At least by varying things slightly you’re able to give your body a bit of diversity; if you fail to do this, smaller muscles get weak and imbalances become injuries in waiting.
Those are all general reasons why mixing up your running terrain is a good idea, but if you know your actual race course will have key elements you’ll need to be prepared for, it’s even more important to introduce those same obstacles in training.