We are entering the Autumn marathon and road racing season with many people putting the finishing touches to their training for the Berlin Marathon and New York City Marathon among others. One area that may be overlooked by many however is training the mind. Luke Coleman gives some interesting advice on how to block out those negative thoughts when the body is feeling fatigued.

You are coming near the end of your 10k race. You have been labouring the last few miles, the wheels have come off. Suddenly someone tries to pass you. Fat chance. You get a “second wind” and are away like the clappers finishing the race strong. After crossing the finish line you then start to think to yourself “where did that come from”, followed shortly by “if I had such a strong finish how come I was labouring for so long before it?”

Every race or training run you do is a game. It’s a contest between yourself and fatigue. You’re trying to run further and faster while fatigue is trying to make you go slower or stop running completely. So what can you do to prevent this? More miles? Tempos? Intervals? These are some of the common answers that you find. In order to fight fatigue you must train your body to not experience it as much. But wouldn’t it be great if you could add another weapon to your arsenal to fight fatigue on top of this? Perhaps there is?

When you think of fatigue you’re probably envisioning a physical problem, either muscle fatigue and build up of hydrogen ions in your body (as a by-product of lactic acid) or a rise in your blood acidity. There is no doubt that those are causes of running fatigue, but there are other, less obvious causes of running fatigue.

But if we look beyond this and work our way back up the ladder. The muscles are acting on command of something else; the brain. Your brain is in control of everything you feel or do. It controls your muscles, your thoughts and your emotions. Your mind can also take control of your running performance. If your brain believes that your body is struggling or that hard times are ahead it can take measures that will negatively affect your running in order to try and protect the body.

So if the brain can be used to protect the body and control fatigue then perhaps we can use this to our advantage? Perhaps we can use the mind to help conquer our fatigue?

1.      Music

Nothing like a bit of music to distract you from feeling tired or heavy breathing. It can also generate positive thoughts and improve your mood. While I recommend this to help with some of your easy runs, this is not a useful tool on races or hard workouts as you need to be a bit more in tune with your body on these.

Tip: If you run in a built up area keep the volume low enough that you are aware of your surroundings and not to get too distracted

2.      Counting

This is one I have only recently implemented and was surprised at the results. Count to an arbitrary number (50 or 100 are good but avoid using 60) count to this 4-5 times consecutively. This will help forget about how many miles left for a while as well as fatigue. Bit of a silly idea? Feel stupid doing it? Elite marathon runner Paula Radcliffe recently said that she uses disassociation by counting her steps during a race. Radcliffe said, “When I count to 100 three times, it’s a mile. It helps me focus on the moment and not think about how many miles I have to go. I concentrate on breathing and striding, and I go within myself.” 

3.      Surges

This is one more geared towards racing. When you start to get into your comfort zone and are struggling to hit your mile splits don’t be afraid to put in a little surge for 30 seconds – 1 min. 9/10 times this can give you the kick up the back side needed to get out of your comfort zone.

Tip: try not to over do this tactic as you can overcook it and suffer as a result.

4.      Alphabet Game

Work through from A to Z for a chosen category, such as women’s names or countries. You can use pretty much anything so aim to use something of interest to you. (For you Olympic Trivia nuts why not work back through the years listing host cities as far back as you can).

5.      Use your Imagination!

Imagine yourself as a lottery winner and decide how to spend your winnings. Alternatively imagine yourself the head of the athletics national governing body in your country. What changes would you make to improve running and facilities in your country?

With us putting so much into our training, don’t let it all go to waste by letting your mind keep you back. These are just a few ways to overcome your mind in order to achieve your running success.

These are a few tricks I have found to harness the power of the mind to help you get through those tough races or training runs.

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