Last month, we introduced you to a nutritionist, a physical therapist, a clinical psychologist, a coach and two American record holders to help you run your best this year.
They shared advice on building training plans, setting big goals, staying injury free and eating to perform. We asked readers to share questions they had for the expert team, and you responded in droves.
So we’ll start with some of the biggest questions first, those that tap into one of the more complex muscles for any endurance athlete: the mind.
Here are some of the questions you had for Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist.
Questions and answers have been edited and condensed.
On hitting the wall
I finally qualified for the Boston Marathon but feel completely without enthusiasm or energy. I’ve never struggled with motivation and I’ve hit some sort of wall. Any advice?
The Boston Marathon is a beast of a race to train for given that the build up of training happens in the winter, often alongside dreary and cold weather. The season is a great teacher for all of us in the endurance sports world, offering us the lesson of leaning into commitment to put in the miles even when the motivation isn’t there.
On a psychological level, this all comes down to the recognition that mood follows action. We feel better once we’ve completed the day’s training. You don’t have to feel excited or enthusiastic about the process. Give yourself permission that it’s OK for you not to have those feelings right now.
Focus on discipline over emotion. Trust that come April, when you’re lining up for the race, that all that enthusiasm you weren’t feeling in the doldrums of February will be there, and you’ll be grateful for the time you put into training.
On getting out the door
My question is simple: How do I get up in the morning? How do you take the first step out of bed?
I often refer to the first minute of the morning alarm as the “hero’s minute.” Doing so will help you adopt a challenge mind-set for how critically important these 60 seconds are in your decision making.
The early morning alarm pits us directly between a state of comfort and the importance of achieving longer-term goals. When we are warm, comfortable and tired, we may have a quick mental screen calculating just how much work it would take to gather all our gear, find our shoes, figure out our route, determine our training plan for the day and get out the door. When this seems even remotely daunting, we are less likely to push ourselves up and out of bed.
Both mental and physical reminders will be helpful to get you out. Part of this process involves battling against initiation energy, which translates to the amount of perceived time and energy it will take to begin a task.
To win the hero’s minute, try to go to bed with your running clothes already on knowing that you will need to engage in a challenge mind-set when the alarm sounds. With your running clothes already on, you’ll have a physical sensation on your skin that will help ease the transition, providing a reminder of the importance of your goals, and combating against that initiation energy. Make sure everything else you need is ready and your route is planned to help this process.
On breaking a running habit
I’ve gotten into the habit of taking breaks throughout a run when I don’t need them. How do I get out of that habit?
It will be helpful to break down the three components of every habit in this situation: the precursor, the behavior itself and the consequence. I would dive a bit more into understanding the precursors to the behavior itself.
What are the exact thoughts, messages and narrative that enter your mind telling you to slow down or take a break?
Bring awareness to those thoughts and develop a pre-run mental plan with a programmed set of thoughts ready to combat those messages. This could be something along the lines of, “Actually, I don’t need to slow down or stop, and I’m not intending to. Onward, let’s go!”
Pair this positive, forward-momentum self talk with a deep commitment to running continuously. Once you’ve repeated this process a handful of times, the connection between self talk and deep commitment will strengthen, and you’ll begin to establish a new habit. And before long you’ll be wondering why you ever stopped in the first place.
On staring down a goal
How do you build confidence in yourself in your present state when you are far away from your goal?
Setting sights on massive, long-shot goals can be equally exhilarating and daunting. The most compelling place to start is with the ideas surrounding self efficacy, a term and theory coined by Albert Bandura, a Canadian American psychologist, that gets to the heart of what we believe we are capable of achieving.
The most important factor in developing our self-efficacy beliefs is our own personal experiences. For athletes, we are presented with the opportunity to sharpen our self belief in relation to our day’s training every day.
I often refer to this process as “how do you put your run away?” It may seem silly, but we often don’t think too much about putting our workouts away mentally. We typically just hit stop on our watch or treadmill and go on to the next part of our day. But taking a minute to mentally catalog what you just completed, and importantly how you completed the work, is a vital step to developing longer term self efficacy.
Take a minute to review your workout and remind yourself not only of the miles and the pace, but the inner athlete you worked to develop in the process. Brick by brick, day by day, self belief for ultimate accomplishments is forged in those daily achievements.