WIN THE MENTAL GAME! PART II

5:00 Mental Drill

In  "WIN THE MENTAL GAME" (Part 1)  I discussed the importance of establishing a mental training volume early in the season and then maintaining that through to the "big" race at the end of the season. My recommendation was the Coach Henner 5:00 Drill which directs you to only think about the upcoming race during five minutes of your daily run. This strict routine helps you avoid the pitfalls of over-thinking, the resulting over-arousal, and it's accompanying anxiety. 

The relationship between arousal and performance. 

The relationship between arousal and performance

Too much thinking can cause over-arousal but so can wrong thinking!  Having  explained 'When to think!" now it's important to understand "What to think! Thinking about the wrong things can lead to over-arousal even if you are not over-thinking. 

The optimal arousal level, or the state at which performance can be maximized, is marked by excitement. Over-arousal, the chief danger on "big" race day, puts the runner into the stress zone and the accompanying anxiety and fear. There is a high probability of "choking" when these negative emotions are present. 

outcome vs. process thoughts

The  investment of training, time, and emotional energy into the "big" race might create expectations that you deem  important to meet. In many instances it is the fear of not meeting expectations, or 'fear of failure," that pushes the arousal level into the stress zone. These expectations are usually outcome based with a focus on time and place. Focusing on outcomes during mental training is usually not productive and can be  detrimental to performance. There are some races where you do not have 100% control over your time or place. A typically fast course, and the promise of PR, might be rendered slow by heat, humidity, wind or rain. An influx of out of town racers might make it near impossible to still win your age group. Dwelling on outcomes that are not certain, and in some cases not in your control, can often push the runner into the stress zone of the arousal curve. An anxious, stressed runner loses some degree of motor control and running economy suffers.  Establishing and committing to outcome goals is still very important in directing training and providing long-term motivation. But it is process oriented thoughts and goals that should be the focus of mental training leading up to the "big" race. 

process thinking

Dwelling on outcomes can cause anxiety and fear, pushing the racer into the stress zone of the arousal curve. But a disciplined volume of process oriented mental training will enable most runners to arrive at the starting line at the optimal arousal level.  The following are examples of process-oriented thinking that help to answer the question, "How will I run the race?"

- I will get off the starting line quickly but relaxed.

- In the first mile I will stay focused on deep, easy breathing.

- I will hit the mile mark within 5 seconds of my goal pace. 

- When I start getting uncomfortable I will shake-out my arms.

- I will drive my arms and power up the hills.

- On the down hills I will lean forward and stay on the balls of my feet. 

-When it gets tough I will stay relaxed and composed. 

- On the final straight I will quicken my cadence and lift my knees. 

The thoughts outlined above describe how you will run the race and set a positive response to being uncomfortable.  These process oriented thoughts can then be interpreted as goals for the race. Unlike outcome based goals, these process oriented goals are 100% under the runner's control and much less likely to cause anxiety or fear. 

"the process is fearless"

The quote above is attributed to long-time NFL assistant coach Tom Moore. Cubs manager Joe Maddon appropriated the quote and used it as a theme for Chicago's first World Championship season since 1908. "Fear of failure" and anxiety are minimized, and even eliminated, when thoughts revolve around the process of the competition and not the outcome. These process oriented thoughts also keep the racer "in the moment" and better able to execute at the key moments of the race. Unburdened by worries about the outcome, the race becomes more fun and a positive outcome is more likely.