How Thinking Like an Athlete Can Help New Runners

By , Amanda C. Brooks, Run to the Finish
Tired of struggling through each run? Wondering what other people know that you don't? How do the elite runners make it look so easy?
Besides the 100-mile weeks, specific eating plans, daily massages and naps, elite runners are just like you. While their training and commitment might be just slightly more intense, any runner can adopt an elite runner's way of thinking to tackle challenging daily runs or races. As with any physical taxing activity, finding success as a runner comes down to being mentally tough to overcome the voice in your head telling you to stop when your heart starts beating faster and your breath becomes more labored.
To push a little farther, stay focused on your ultimate race or pace goals, or just to learn to enjoy your run more, focus on implementing these tips sports psychologists offer elite runners.

Stop Focusing on the How

Rather than focusing on how you should run, focus instead on what you want and start acting. Analysis paralysis—the act of overanalyzing an action until you are unable to make any decision—can keep people from achieving their ultimate goals. Instead of acting, we keep putting things off by looking for more information to ensure we are doing things "perfectly."
The truth is, there is no perfect and simply taking action is going to move you farther along than spending days, weeks or months trying to figure out the best workout, the best diet or best running shoe. Take advantage of your burst of motivation to do something—anything!—that will leave you feeling good about your goals.

Flow Don't Force

Exerting force against something rather than flowing around it requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental effort. Consider the Grand Canyon and the way water flowed around, under and over boulders, slowly and effectively carving the gorgeous creation over time. Your body is under construction and working with it, rather than forcing it to perform, will result in something incredible.
Instead of forcing yourself to do workouts you hate, start with the ones you love. I'm not a fan of the track, for example, which means I started adding random intervals to my runs or increasing the pace for a few miles rather than forcing myself into a dreaded workout. No one will stick with a program they hate, so take your time experimenting and finding one that you actually look forward to doing.

Intentionally Make Mistakes

Let go of the need for perfection and you might find it easier to simply do the task at hand. I really love this idea of just making a mistake to get it out of the way and release any self-inflicted pressure.
Remember the first time you dinged your new car? Suddenly you thought, "Okay, well that happened and it's no longer perfect so I don't need to obsess about where I park anymore." Once you've had a bad run or fallen off your perfectly planned meal schedule, take a moment to realize it wasn't such a big deal. You can still exercise tomorrow. You can still focus on eating healthy at your next meal. It's not the end of the world or the end of your journey to health.
You've learned something new, dusted yourself off and moved forward—and that mentality will ultimately make you stronger in the future.

Calm Mind, Big Results

Great competitors believe they will win. Not because of ego, but because it allows them to use every practice to focus on what they need to do instead of wasting energy being anxious or worried about the outcome.
Visualizing yourself crossing the finish line with a massive fist pump and smile is going to take you so much farther in training than the fear of "what if it doesn't go well?" It can take some time to adjust your head to get on board with this more Zen approach to your workout, but if you can get there and allow your body to work and perform at its best level you'll be rewarded with feelings of pride no matter the result.

Stop Setting B and C Goals

This one hurts at first because it goes against everything we've been taught, but the logic is sound. Once you say to yourself "I'll be happy if I just do B," then your body and mind no longer have the need to push for A come race day. You're essentially telling yourself it's okay to settle before the gun sounds.
You don't need to be on the podium to be a successful runner. Honestly, you don't even need to race if that's not what you enjoy. Changing your mindset to be more flexible and accepting of your physical capabilities will ensure you get more out of every run, and you'll suddenly start to notice how it bleeds over into other goals. 

About the Author Amanda Brooks is an eight-time marathon finisher, long-time running coach and fitness writer. She also runs Run to the Finish, a blog resource for runners. She not only loves the sport but appreciates finding new ways to learn more and foster a sense of community among fellow runners. 

What mental tricks do you utilize during your runs?