Performance psychology for runners promises to turbocharge your training so you’re able to get the most out of your body on race day. But how does this field of psych relate to endurance running?
Looking back over my running career, it’s clear that I’ve always had an obsession with improvement. I just like getting better.
When weekly mileage steadily increases and new monthly mileage records are reached, I’m a happy runner.
Give me a PR – any PR! – and you’ve officially made my month.
And this drive to improve has also bled into other areas of my life:
- Reading is practically a competitive sport for me now
- I love seeing steady gains in my retirement account over time
- My love for plants is similar to my love for mileage: more is usually better!
So it might actually come as a surprise that I didn’t train my mind for the first eight years of my running career in any systematic way.
Despite the incredible promise of mental training to boost confidence, grit, and focus, I completely ignored it.
That is… until I needed to sharpen my mental skills.
And then I took a personal crash course into visualization and found, to my great surprise, that it actually worked!
Frankly, even the amateur visualization that I performed worked better than I had hoped because I accomplished a lot of goals in one single race (I tell the story here).
But what if I took it more seriously?
What if we approached performance psychology with as much vigor as we approached our physical training?
What is Performance Psychology?
Mentally tough? Or is it just really sunny in Colorado?
I strongly believe that the next big avenue for improvement will come from training our brain. And without working on our mental fitness, we’re leaving a lot of potential on the track.
Which leads us to the topic of performance psychology.
Performance psych is a sexy term that’s defined by the American Psychological Association as:
This subfield of psychology focuses on identifying and applying psychological principles that facilitate peak sport performance, enhance physical ability and achieve optimal human performance.
You had me at “achieve optimal human performance...”
And the promise is exciting: runners who master these skills have the tools to overcome mental obstacles that often sideline our training or make us race slower.
A few examples:
- Pre-race anxiety causes you to get so nervous that you can’t eat… a poor fueling situation for any endurance runner
- A lack of confidence has you starting races too slow… and without aggressive pacing, personal bests get more and more difficult
- Most races have you slowing down over the final miles… without the mental toughness to grit through the fatigue
- Low motivation causes inconsistent training… so it’s never possible to get close to your potential
These problems happen to most runners at some point. They’re common, expected psychological problems that come with distance running.
But with our new focus on mastering our mindset, I want to ensure you have the tools and mental models to always be in control of your psychology.
So I invited a health and performance psychology expert onto the podcast to explain these models, tools, and skills to the Strength Running community.
Dr. Justin Ross on Performance Psychology for Runners
Dr. Ross is a clinical psychologist, 2:57 marathoner, triathlete, and cofounder of Mind Body Health, an integrative health psychology and counseling center in Denver, Colorado.
His areas of expertise include:
- Mitigating anxiety, depression, and stress
- Managing the psychological impact of injury
- Developing high performing athletes
- Mindfulness and pain management
He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, performance psychology, and mindfulness training to help athletes improve their inner self-talk and develop the mental skills to lead more productive and successful athletic lives.
Justin joins us on the podcast to discuss a wide variety of issues:
- The most important psychological skills for endurance runners
- How to teach performance psychology for runners
- How mental fitness skills impact the rest of our life
- Reinforcing habits through mental training
- And more…
Every runner has struggled with the mental side of the sport: doubts, despair, boredom, anxiety, lack of confidence, and no motivation.
Just this week, you’ve been sharing problems that nearly any runner can relate to. Just look:
“I would be interested in learning strategies to deal with that inner voice that starts to talk at about 80km of a 100k- the one that tells you to stop, reminds you how nice it would be to just sit at the next aid station and DNF, that this is crazy, why do you want to keep going….” – Becky
“Training at a high level for a long time frame is HARD! Mentally, it crushed me about 8-10 weeks from my big race. I got up one morning, and just couldn’t do it. Physically I was tired, but mentally I just couldn’t make myself go do that HARD set of intervals. I quit the interval workout and just went for an easy run, but mentally I felt like a total failure.” – Leanne
“If I do a speed workout and get in oxygen debt I immediately, unconsciously slow down. I want to fight it but my body does the opposite. My thoughts are so uncontrolled when I’m in oxygen debt… Would love to hear a talk on this.” – Seth
Dr. Justin Ross is here to help us conquer that inner critic, use performance psychology to stay motivated, and get in control of our mindset.
Show Links & Resources:
There is no sponsor for this episode of the podcast. Instead, please share this episode with a friend or your running group!
Our goal at Strength Running is to help you improve, year after year, and realize your running potential. By doing that, we’ll elevate the sport to new heights.
Thank you for helping us reach new runners and sharing our message of smart training, strength, and mental toughness!
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