Mind GamesIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be talking about head games for the month of April and delve into the thought processes that you may have while you are working out. This week, I would like to start the discussion with the types of thoughts that go through your head while you are running.

Whether we are training or racing, there are two basic states of mind that you are likely to be in. You will be concentrating on the task at hand or you will be trying to distract yourself from what you are doing. In training, there will often be a mix of the two, but come race time we tend to gravitate towards one extreme or the other. Which extreme might change from mile to mile, but there tends to be a focus on one though process or the other. Which one you gravitate towards has nothing to do with how fast or whether you are being paid to do it; different people cope with their situation in different ways and both ways can be quite effective.

“Runner 693″ by tychay

Photo by tychay
Concentrating on the task at hand means that you are focused on what you are doing and you have no extraneous thoughts. You are living in the moment, and you are trying to get your body to behave exactly as you want it. You may be trying to move as fast as you possibly can, or you may be trying to hold down a specific pace, but you are committed to what you are doing and you will suffer no distractions. You may be looking straight ahead or you may be looking at a competitors shoulder blades. You are trying to keep your breathing regular and you probably have some degree of tunnel vision. The people on the sidelines don’t matter; just you and your competitors. Maybe not even your competitors.

Distracting yourself means that you are trying not to think about how much it hurts, or you are just out running without a specific goal pace. You may be trying to figure out split times in your head, or thinking about your spouse, or you may be looking at people on the sidewalk for somebody that you know. Easy runs tend to lend themselves to distractions as you let your mind wander. All out sprints also tend to lend themselves to distractions as you try to think of anything but how hard you are breathing or how heavy your legs are feeling. You may be looking ahead and trying to count how many people you need to catch, or trying to plan how far until you have to find a toilet or jump behind some bushes. You may listen to headphones and concentrate on the music or a podcast.

Recognizing what types of thoughts go through your head at any given time on a run can help you to improve your racing. You may realize that you tend to distract yourself as much as possible when running, and might want to try concentrating during a race to see if it improves your performance. Or you may concentrate on the task at hand to the point where you never enjoy your running, and may want to try planning your pace out as you run instead of going at a steady pace the entire race. Alternatively, you may notice that you tend to lean one way or the other, and might want to try focusing more towards the extreme that you favor to see if you can see some measurable results.

Either extreme can and will lead to solid race performances. Trying to hold both types of thoughts at the same time, however, will tend to erode your pace and can really retard your race time from going down. Next time you go out for a speed workout or are about to toe the line, make a note to yourself to try to remember what goes through your head. When you are done, write it down. After a few times of doing this, you will have a pretty good idea of what you think about and can start to experiment.