As the racing season comes to a close for most in the winter, I want to touch on mental training plans now to serve as a cornerstone of your 2024 training. Mental training is often associated with grueling workouts or long tough endurance runs. While mental training can be integrated into these aspects of training, this winter period of down time can serve as the foundation of mental training and building out your mental skills arsenal.
1. Defining Your “Why”
Without a clear and strong “Why?”, the “How?” of training and racing becomes increasingly more difficult. The lower volume and intensity periods of training, is a great time to reflect on your “why?” for running. This might involve periods of thought in quiet and solitude, discussions with your coach, friends, or family, or a process of journaling. Whatever method you choose to discern and clarify your “why?” is up to you; but root your why in a larger context of who you are. What grounds you? What inspires you? Where do you find strength? The answers to these questions help to begin the process of defining your “why.” Defining your “why” now will allow you to come back to this purpose and intention before race day, but also throughout all of training, especially those times when training feels a bit monotonous or immediate motivation is absent.
2. Accept the Natural Fluctuations
“The grind” culture in life and training sounds enticing and admirable, but this fuel is fast burning. Athletes who know when to take periods of recovery, a step away from training and competing, and embrace the cycles of motivation in the year, are often more successful. Consistency over epicness. Accept that it’s ok to not have this grinding mentality. Take days and larger chunks away from structured training to recharge, and gain perspective on your running. This will only help you “go to the well” or call upon one of your mental skills when you really need it.
3. Align Mental Skills Practice with Training
Being fully present in your running sounds like the ideal state for all runs, but sometimes there is such a thing as being “too present.” Being able to give your mind a mental break during racing is just as important as highly encouraging self talk. There are a variety of mental skills to use during a race, and just as with the running aspect of training, practicing these various mental skills is also key to executing them on race day. Utilizing your “why” for momentum forward might be a tool to practice on training days of terrible weather conditions and you don’t feel like getting outside. Dissociating and letting your mind at ease, day dreaming a bit even, might be a mental skill to practice on long easy effort runs. Self talk of encouragement and positivity might be the mental skill to practice on short, hard intervals where every ounce of you wants to halt the full body discomfort. These are just a few mental skills to practice. There are a variety of experts in the field of sports psychology and even some who specialize in endurance athletes. Seek out their resources for guidance on when and how to practice these mental skills.
Often our perceived athletic limits are rooted in our mind. Just as your body grows strong with training, so does your mind. Take the time to practice your mental skills. It will be time well spent no matter your goals.