It's often said that the only barrier to progress is in the mind, with the idea that all things can be possible if at first we believe that we can. Nothing is truer or more relevant for runners. Runners often get stuck in a training rut, or pass through oceans of time before hitting a pb, purely because they cannot get past their own mind first.
In the beginning, most runners enjoy a vast improvement in their performances, nailing pb’s all the time, mainly through physical changes in the body and adaptation as the body physically gets used to running. Then, the inevitable plateau occurs and runners start to believe that ‘this is it’ and that they have reached the limit of their capabilities. Nothing is further from the truth, they just don’t know it. This is an example of a psychological barrier where a runner accepts their position because they believe they have reached their physical limit. Unlocking this can be tricky, but it starts with positivity. Understanding that there is always an improvement to be made in any situation is key in progressing and this is the same for all runners irrespective of ability. Some rules for breaking through a mental barrier;
- It starts with positivity, you have to believe you can do it. Saying ‘I’m not sure’ won’t cut it, you have to go for it completely. Drop the failures of the past. You literally have to shut out all previous performances. Invariably, if you don’t then you’ll dig up some bad race or other and it will start to haunt you.
- Barrier breaker: You need a mantra. Something that you can roll out when things get tough. A lot of runners use something personal to them, perhaps emotive, but it needs to be something that works immediately in refocusing you on the job in hand of smashing through the mental barrier. “you’re stronger than this”, or “trust your training” are well-cited examples but have some fun with your own!
- Breakdown the distance: Looking at 26.2 miles and chewing off 1mile chunks at a time might not be a good idea, but thinking of it as four 6-mile segments might help. Take each one at a time. Then with a few miles to go – imagine it’s just a cheeky 5k, so might as well push hard, not far to go. Alternatively break down the distances by landmark – push until the clock-tower, then when you get there pick another…but keep the brain busy!
- Imagination: ok so we’re not talking about picturing yourself on the podium next to an elite, but picture yourself basking in your own glory, crossing the line with the time you wanted. Hold the image with you. Be realistic with your goals, but keep the image with you. With the right ‘brain training’ you can definitely cross through barriers and understanding this can help you to keep pushing that bit more…and improve.
Whatever the barrier, you can arm yourself with tools to break through and take positive steps to ensuring that during race training and on race day you are in the right place to get the result you are looking for.