Runners' Mental Tips: Turn Off, Tune Up, Drop In
Sage Rountree—How do you cope? Everyone has a personal best psychological strategy for hanging in when the going gets rough during workouts and races. Finding this individually optimal strategy is the trick—especially as it is a moving target. What works well for one style of workout, say hard track intervals, might not be effective during another type, such as a long run. What works under certain conditions—when you’re the hunter, picking off runners in front of you—might not work when you’re the frontrunner.
Regardless of what works for you, at some point, you’re going to have to buckle down. Here are some strategies to try, which run counter to Timothy Leary’s counterculture mantra, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.”
First, turn off any music you might be using. Instead, listen to your breath and your footstrike. A quiet, staccato runner is a quick runner. (Read more about the way your running sounds here.) While you’re at it, notice what the internal noise is in your head. Is it full of negative self-talk? Complaints? If so, work to quiet that voice.
Next, bring your attention to your form. How does your stride look right now? Is it slow and heavy, or quick and light? Is it hitchy and plodding, or stiff and springy? Rough or smooth? Take efforts to return to your best form. Often, this means reorienting your spine and pelvis to mountain pose alignment, then finding places you can relax.
Dropping in is the ultimate association. It’s bringing your awareness and attention to what you are experiencing in the immediate moment. Do you feel intensity? Where? Go right to that place—drop your focus into it. Is there pain in your body? Can you investigate that and watch it as it shifts, growing stronger or lessening? When you are tempted to quit—to drop out—try instead embracing the experience in all its messy intensity. Drop in.
Try this process—turn off, tune up, drop in—in your next hard workout or race, and let me know how it goes.
Endurance sports coach Sage Rountree is author of books including The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery and The Runner’s Guide to Yoga. Sage writes on sports for Yoga Journal and on yoga for publications including Runner’s World, Lava Magazine, and USA Triathlon Life. Find her on Twitter at @sagetree.