Running is the greatest metaphor for life.  Persevere until you achieve success.

Posted July 21st, 2018


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Dr. Joan Steidinger is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through Association of Applied Sports Psychology and is the author of Sisterhood in Sports:  How female athletes collaborate and compete.



In a recent study by sport psychologist Dr. Cindra Kampf, she discovered runners ranked “pessimism” as the main obstacle hindering their running performances. A pessimistic attitude creates a negative viewpoint when a runner focuses more on the miles to run as opposed to the miles already run. Pessimism causes negative thinking, low energy, lack of focus, and decreased motivation. Pessimism drains your energy as opposed to optimism which re-charges it. Research continually shows that your mind can override your body. Runners often work hardest on their physical and nutritional training yet neglect their mind training. 

1. What’s your mindfulness plan for pre-race and race day?

Positive mind skills can make all the difference in your race. Each one of you running the races(s) will find it helpful to prepare in a positive way that works for you. You will receive plenty of advice from others so be sure to choose what works specifically for you.  Also remember, the race usually has ups and down. Your mind’s job is to keep you steady and have mind skills to pull yourself out of the downs. The mind’s downs can interfere with both the way you run the race and even prevent you from finishing. Train your brain like your body!  There are many different techniques you can use: Keep these phrases in mind:

  • Hard Work pays off.
  • Determination keeps me going.
  • Perseverance helps me finish.
  • Positive Thoughts give me strength.
  • Feeling Confident gets me to the finish.

2. What are your mindfulness goals for the race?

Setting up mindfulness goals for the race helps provide motivation and focus for the race.  Without goals, you’re more likely to get easily distracted and not have positive thoughts and reminders to keep you going. If you want your race to feel successful, I suggest that you set up multiple mindful goals. Several examples of mindful goals:

  • Run your own mindful race.  (Keep positive  and develop your own rythym.)
  • During the race, remind yourself of your hard work and training.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques that help you finish.
  • Have some fun while running the marathon.
  • Finish strong.
  • Confident. 
  • My reward for finishing is _______.

3. What are your mindful cognitive (thinking) strategies for the race?

Thoughts directly impact your thinking, behavior, and mind.  If your thoughts end up negative, your performance will be affected and energy drained.  Below are examples of some strategies that you might use.

  • Try thought changes such as replacing (switching) negative with positive ones.
  • Use positive self talk, avoid self talk stressors like should, must, have to, need to, et al.
  • Realize fatigue is subjective.  Example of mindfully combatting fatigue: Think “Strong Legs and Strong Mind.”
  • Mindfully break the race into sections: First 10 miles are my friends,  second 10 miles show my strength, and the final 10K is my commitment to my life and finishing what I start.
  • Create short positive phrases and consider developing a primary Mantra (short) to use throughout the race: I am determined. I run light as a feather. I am on an adventure.

4. What will help me mindfully focus and concentrate?    

Focus is the ability to stay in the moment and maintain your attention on the task at hand (i.e. running the race).  Focusing allows you to block out external and internal distractions.  Without focus, trying to run a mindful race will interfere with your performance. Examples:

  • On difficult or intimidating hills, think soar and look only 10 feet ahead, then it will not seem so overwhelming.
  • Think: “Present moment, beautiful moment.” Thich Nhat Hahn           
  • As you run, check your breathing and allow depth in your breathe.

5. What is visualization? How can it help?

Visualization involves using your imagination to see, smell, hear, touch, and taste pleasant scenes that will assist you in different places in the race, especially if you’re having a struggle. Without these, you will limit the number of tools that will distract you from a negative mindset. One tool is to imagine yourself as a running animal. I used the image of a mountain lion. Years ago, I was competitively running ultras. I had trained to run the Western States 100 in under 24 hours, but I had difficult day with blisters on 3/4ths of both my feet. Throughout the day, I kept thinking, “Even mountain lions have bad days, but they keep going.” A few examples of visualization include:

  • Imagine yourself running easily and flowing through each stride.
  • When there’s hills on the course, imagine yourself soaring the uphills.
  • Using Neurun’s course view, repeatedly review, acquaint yourself with the course, and imagine parts ahead of time. This helps you develop strategy.
  • Imagine you’re running in your favorite place in nature.

Dr. Joan Steidinger is the Director of Sports Psychology for Neurun.