The Top 5 Sports Psychology Tips for Runners

It’s that time of year again, when spring has sprung and runners are looking at their early season training and racing schedule. Some of you are in the middle of a trainiSports Psychology, Sports Psychologist Dr Justin Ross Denver #runchat The top 5 sports psychology tips for runnersng cycle and may have already raced. Others are dusting off the winter and preparing to embark on this seasons training. Sports psychology can be a vital element of a successful season, regardless of where you find yourself in the training cycle. Here are Dr Ross’ top 5 sports psychology tips for runners.

1. Running is all about Flow state. 

The beautiful thing about running is that it provides the perfect movement for achieving flow; the rhythmic connection between mind, body, and environment. Achieving a flow state while running doesn’t always happen, nor is it expected to be there for each and every training run. Reaching flow requires a proper focus on relaxed form, breathing technique, proper attentional focus (more on this in an upcoming post), and mindset (more on this below). There can be a lot of distractions for flow, and they mainly come in our own approach. Often, we can default to a mindset of, “Well, I guess I’ll just go for a run.” It’s best that each and every run have a purpose, even if it’s simply to get outside and enjoy the day. Unstructured, un-purposed runs can often become sloppy, and interfere with getting into a flow state. For those of you listening to music or audiobooks on the bulk of your runs, I recommend taking at least one run per week without any audio so that you can work on feeling the flow state of your body aligning with breathing, heart rate and movement.

2. Relaxed Runners are Flow runners.

In addition to distraction, a few of the biggest culprits interrupting flow are stress, anxiety, or worrying too much about the numbers being displayed on our watches. Balancing the nervous system of the body in a proactive way, by incorporating daily mindfulness training or breathing exercise can help provide stabilization in your system. Working on rhythmic, paced breathing during runs can prove very effective. Noticing posture when getting tense during a run and focusing on proper form can help too.

3. Running is all about Mindset, Mindset, Mindset.

The late baseball legend Yogi Berra is known for a lot of great quotes. One of my favorites is, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” You can easily replace baseball with running, or any other sport for that matter. Thinking matters. Perception matters. Self-talk matters. Understanding your own mental game as it relates to your training and performance is the starting point. What goes through your mind when training is difficult? Or if you happen to feel sluggish that day? How do you appraise your performance? What judgments are you prone to making? Notice the connection between the mental appraisals in your mind and the subsequent posture, running form, or impact on pace that you experience. Notice how these judgments can impact your enjoyment for the sport in general. Learning the proper form of cognitive appraisal as it relates to your running is key, as is keeping your mindset positive.

4. Understand the importance and detriment of goal setting.

Runners are a numbers chasing bunch. This can of course be helpful in chasing down meaningful goals, creating training schedules, setting PR’s, watching our progress over time etc. But it can also have a negative effect if we’re not careful. We are too quick to slap a “good” or “bad” label on runs based on our own heart rate, pace, time or other objective data points which can set us up for failure. Often, our labels for “good” or “bad” performance come from ill-conceived notions or unrealistic expectations of where we think we “should” be performing. We can find ourselves crushed if we missed a self-defined mark. Be reminded that progress is measured across time. A single performance on any given day does not define you. Shakespeare (why not quote both Shakespeare and Yogi Berra in the same post) penned ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Be aware of your own expectations and challenge your own assertions.

5. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Growth occurs outside of your comfort zone. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone requires a desire to do so and plan of action once there. Cognitive strategies for self-talk when pushing yourself in this way are tremendously helpful, often completed in the form of mantras or repetitive phrases. Find a simple phrase that you connect to and use it during these moments. Addressing your attention focus (more on this in an upcoming post) is also critical.

Dr. Justin Ross is a clinical psychologist in Denver. He specializes in sports and performance psychology

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