Train Your Brain: How to Get Started on Your Mental Game

Mental miles

Today’s guest post comes from Chelsi Day, licensed clinical and sport psychologist, and member of the Columbus Marathon Psych Team.

You’ve likely got a great training schedule mapped out and you might even diligently keep a training log. By race day, you will log hundreds of miles through all sorts of weather, at different times of day. These are the ways you’ll know that your body is ready for the big event. So how are you training your mind?

The mental aspect of any athletic endeavor is just as important as the physical aspect, yet how many of us actually put time and effort into mental training? It may be hard to know where to start. Here are a few tips to get you started on your mental game:

Goal setting – It’s likely that you make goals of time and distance for your training runs/walks (and if not, you might think about starting). Make goals for the mental aspect of your training sessions. These can be goals such as – keeping a positive mindset, saying encouraging things to yourself, developing a mantra, or really focusing on experiencing the scenery. All of these things will contribute to making you more mentally tough and therefore a stronger race participant.

Association/Dissociation – Our mind wanders all sorts of wild places while we run/walk. Some of us process the day during our training or work out difficult emotional aspects of our lives. Some of us don’t really pay attention at all, we just try to get through it. Knowing when to associate (focus on the run itself, how your body feels, your technique) versus when to dissociate (focus on the songs you’re listening to, what you’re having for dinner, or the to-do list of the day) can change the tone and outcome of your training session. When you’re feeling particularly pumped up and feeling good during your run or walk – associating and focusing on the task can help improve your performance and experience. Dissociating when you start hitting a mental wall or begin talking not-so-nice to yourself can help keep you from losing momentum and having a poor training session.

Music – I have to admit that I’ve always used music to help me stay in a good mental space when running. A colleague of mine (Dr. Jasmin Hutchinson) who joined me on the Toronto Marathon Psyching Team conducts her research on music and running. Here’s what she had to say:

  • Research shows the optimal tempo range for running music is 130-145 beats per minute. You can find entire channels on things like Pandora or Spotify that are organized by tempo if you need some ideas.
  • A common mistake among first time marathoners is to start out too fast, so choose low key, slower tempo tracks at the start to keep you on pace. Then ease into your typical temp tracks after a mile or two.
  • Most runners and walkers have familiar songs that pump them up or help them relax. Use these songs in training to create positive memories and associations of good training runs or walks. These will come in handy on race day.

These are a few important tips to help with mental training. Remember to plan for your mental training and keep a log, just like you do with your physical training. This will allow you to monitor your progress and see where improvements can be made.

If you want more mental training tips, keep your eyes peeled on the Columbus Marathon blog, plus follow the marathon on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. For those of you that are local, join us on Saturday, 8/10 or 9/21, at 12pm at the Columbus Goodwill Headquarters at 1331 Edgehill Road, Columbus, Ohio 43212. Members of the psyching team will give presentations on mental skills for marathons and half marathons as well as provide opportunities for some one-on-one conversation

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