The Psychology of Running: Dr. Lauren Easton


Mental Fortitude and Mindset

Running can often be a test of mental fortitude – such as logging miles as the sun beats down on your neck, battling to reach the top of a treacherous hill, or surging through the chute to the finish line.

Although the physical aspect of running is often given the most attention during training, the development of mental skills is critical for optimizing performance. An individual’s mindset, or attitude, can be crafted to oust competition or to complete grueling training sessions. Further, psychological skills can be used to attend to arousal levels, combat negative thoughts associated with excessive monitoring, and enjoying the overall running experience.

Many runners experience a variety of obstacles, such as pre-race “butterflies,” suffer from muscle fatigue, injury, or preoccupation with their performance. Here are a few cognitive strategies that can help an athlete feel more control over these events:

Set Process Goals Over Outcome Goals

 Look for various ways to measure success, such as maintaining proper form throughout each mile or improving your time from a previous race. Focus on your performance, and avoid comparing your race outcomes to other the outcomes of other runners. While training, set short-term and long-term goals in order to monitor your improvement over time.

Engage in Positive Self-Talk

  • This skill refers to effective, internal dialogue that can help you maintain your attention, focus and emotion

Try different types of self-talk, such as:

     Instructional Self-Talk

  • Guidance (can be verbal or non-verbal) for performance
  • Example = “Tall torso”

     Emotional Self-Talk

  • A mantra for increasing your arousal levels and helps you remember your reason for running
  • Example = ‘I can, I must, I will. ‘

Control the Controllable

 Identify the aspects of race day that you can control

  • Do your best to become familiar with the venue and prepare for the event (e.g., identify restroom locations, course map, & aid/water stations)
  • Example = Check the weather report and pack extra clothes

Stay Present

 Try to stay present and enjoy your running experience.

Each day is a gift and an opportunity to appreciate the capabilities of your body and mind.