When I first started running I had to overcome the physical challenges. I was out of breath. I was sweaty. My legs felt heavy. My feet ached. Was I done yet? As my lungs and legs got stronger, I realized that running poses mental challenges that can be just as difficult to overcome.
On race day, I know I’ve done all I can to prepare for the physical challenges of the course, but I still need to get my head in the game. I think about my goals, visualize myself running strong through the finish, and remind myself that I’ve got this.
The Runner’s Brain
While there are hundreds of books the will help you train your body, I haven’t seen many that teach you how to train your brain for better running. Through Runner’s World I was given the opportunity to review a new book that does just that:
In The Runner’s Brain, Dr. Jeff Brown explains why the brain is so important to running performance, and explains how you can think your way to better running. (Really!) Dr. Brown is a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist specializing in sport and performance psychology, and the Boston Marathon’s lead psychologist.
Like other Rodale Books I’ve reviewed (such as Bicycling’s Big Book Of Training), this book is organized into topical sections that make it easy to read and digest the information:
- Running and Your Brain
- Brain Strategies
- Training and Racing
- Resources (including worksheets and a training plan)
Using Your Brain
The night before the Army Ten Miler I skimmed through The Runner’s Brain to see if I could find any tips for tackling the 14th Street Bridge, and I did. Dr. Brown identifies four ways you can use your brain during a run:
- internal association (focusing on how you are feeling as you run)
- external association (focusing on something external but related to your run, like the sound of the gravel crunching under your feet )
- internal dissociation (focusing on something internal but not running-related, like puzzling over a work problem)
- external dissociation (focusing on something external and not running-related, like chatting with your running partner or getting lost in your music)
In the chapter on “Hitting the Wall,” Dr. Brown explains that while elite athletes seem to do better with internal strategies, the rest of us do better with external strategies, and with external dissociation in particular. I can certainly vouch for the fact that long runs can seem effortless when I am running with a friend, even when my Garmin tells me I wasn’t taking it easy.
The next day, as I ran across the bridge, I noticed what my brain was doing. Each time it veered toward internal association (I’m hot! Am I breathing to hard?), I tried to deflect it externally. I found myself mostly in the external association category, trying to stay within the shadow of the guardrail, avoid potholes, and catch up with the next runner in front of me, although I know I also relied on my music to keep me going.
I plan to put this strategy tip to the test! 😉
Working The Boston Marathon
The Runner’s Brain is not all science–although I love those parts. It also includes anecdotes and, because Dr. Brown was working the Boston Marathon in 2013, he shares about his experience that day and how he’s seen the Boston running community come together with kindheartedness and resilience.
I’m joining Wendy’s Book Review link up at Taking The Long Way Home.
How do you get your brain in the game for a big race?