Crushing it: The Mental Game

I'm always asked why I love running, and the answer is... you can always progress and better your abilities. Yes, physically, but I've learned (and am still learning) to be mentally tough. Ever felt like you could've gone faster, but something was holding you back? Well, it's most likely your mind. Here are a few tips and tricks to step on the line fearless and crush your race...

Find your "why" : The first time you signed up for cross country or track, you had to have a reason (because who would run voluntarily). It might have been conditioning for another sport, the camaraderie of friends, or even to relieve some post school stress. My "why" is God gave me a cool gift, and I use it for His Glory. When you want to quit the workout or slow down in a race, I've found that mentally going back to my purpose for starting running has helped me break the mental barrier holding me back. Find your purpose and you'll be good for the long run.

See and achieve: The renown boxer, Muhammad Ali said, "If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it-- then I can achieve it." People talk about imagining the race like it already happened so when you step on the line you've already ran the race in your head. Coaches call it visualization, the concept is to close your eyes and see the entire race in such detail, that it is almost real. Imagine hitting all your marks, the perfect weather, the way your spikes hit the ground, your constant steady breaths, and the crowd cheering. Having all these positive thoughts and imagining the perfect race will calm your pre race nerves and help you better achieve your perfect race.

Mantra: Everybody has one. A quote, a bible verse, or a word to live by. The word mantra is used in yoga. It means a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Going to my one word mantra gives me a boost of confidence, whether it be at school, practice, or a race. Some mantra examples could be "fearless," "stand tall," or even something completely irrelevant to running. Runners World even talks about "The Magic of Mantras." They said having a mantra takes all your negative thoughts and lets your mind focus on the positive one.

Prepare and Plan: Just like at school, running involves preparation and a plan. Before every season, my coach and I make a plan for my season, put together goals, and plan out what races I'm going to run. By having a workout plan and training hard throughout the season, you can step on the line with confidence in your strengths. When race day comes, have a race strategy. Whether it's what time you are going to run each mile or who you are going to run with, having a race strategy will calm your nerves.

I've had my share of what could've been great races that didn't go too well because of a mental barrier. My coach had a sports psychologist, Dr. Smith, to come talk to our team about mental struggles during races. She said, Imagine you're a scuba diver at the bottom of the ocean and you're looking up watching the boats go by. You see small, fast boats, and big slow boats. All the boats going by represent your thoughts during a race, some might be "I went out too fast" , "I forgot to take my gps watch off" , or even "it's hot." The goal is to not "hop on the boat" which is your train of thought because you lose focus in the race. You might ask, "what if I do hop on the boat?" Don't stay too long on that "boat" stop thinking about the excuses your mind comes up with. Realize your thoughts are going to be there, and watch them pass by, but do not hop on the boat and let that thought take over your mind.

Not every race will be a "perfect" race, but by employing these simple tips and tricks, your mental strength will certainly improve. Gone for a run, Presley Miles