Your mind controls a large part of your running experience, from motivation to pacing strategy to handling pre-race jitters and pain. Your brain is in control of everything you feel or do: from working your muscles, to controlling your thoughts and emotions.
Your mind can also take control of your running performance, if your brain believes that your body is struggling or that hard times are ahead it can take measures that will negatively affect your running. Physical training is just as important as being able to manage those negative thoughts and filter them into positive and effective results. Your conscious mind tells you that you would be much better off stopping your run, so your body reacts by becoming even more fatigued. That’s the power of your brain, but you can use that power for your own desire and goals.
There are a number of techniques you can use to harness the power of your mind, including focus and positive thinking. Placing your mental focus on some external event or object takes your conscious mind's attention away from the upcoming difficulty or the physical fatigue of your run. This will allow you to keep your conscious mind from getting in the way of your running goal. A good technique that is used by Ultra and Marathon runner Loretta Daley is reciting poems that she has written. She finds this helps to not think of the number of miles that lays ahead. Many athletes rehearse their racing strategies in their minds before even stepping foot on the track. Although you may think of this as a mental exercise strategy to better focus their minds, it can actually cause some positive physical changes in the body.
For instance if you were to think negatively before going into a race and repeatedly say to your self that you are not going to run well, then you are sending the same messages to your body and mind which can have a detrimental effect on your run. I have personally experienced this, there have been many races in which I have been thinking constantly that I was going to run badly and as a result I had a bad run. When you allow your brain to think negative thoughts and you have planted that seed in your mind, the brain gives up before it's even started. Positive thinking allows the mind and body to be relaxed and to run more smoothly without adding any extra stress on the body. Becoming stressed or over-thinking negative thoughts, can cause the muscles in your body to become tense and more prone to injury.
Running exhaustion is often mental rather than physical, as your mind will give up before your body does. The brain subconsciously alerts the muscles to slow down, making you think that you can no longer go on with your training. But in fact when you get a negative thought in your mind you should quickly distract the mind to another source, enabling you to break through that 'mind over matter' wall.
It's important to put in the mileage and sessions but it's also important to train your mind to listen to your body. When you are training absorb the feelings you are getting in your various muscles. Are they becoming too tired that you have to give up? Or is it that you are becoming bored in your run causing your mind to tell your body to stop? You should try to keep a diary on your training schedule but also include your mood and how you felt in the run. This could then be a helpful tool so that you can look back to see if this fatigue that you experienced is actually a cause of over training or your mind playing tricks with your body. If you do get bored easily then try running with people or listening to music. Test different techniques that will allow you to have more control over your mind rather than the mind controlling you. The highest barriers you need to overcome are the ones that are in your mind. Your body will achieve what your mind believes.
“We must train from the inside out. Using our strengths to attack and nullify any weaknesses. It’s not about denying a weakness may exist but about denying its right to persist...”
– Vince McConnell
“The mental well is the muscle that needs exercise just as the muscles in the body.”
– Lynn Jenkins
“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger