His legs feel like cinder blocks, lungs burning like last night’s embers in the camp fire. Sweat drips off his brow in rhythm to the short slowing steps. What is happening, he asks, why am I so tired? Stopping to catch his breath and regroup he wonders if he should go on. He has just hit his mental wall.
Every runner at one point or another has been there and experienced “the mental wall”. It’s the devil’s advocate dancing around in your head when fatigue and pain begin to set it. Do I stop, or press on?
In my time here at inov-8 I have been exposed to the professional minds who create the cutting edge products and the athletes who push these same products to the boundaries of what they are capable of. This perpetual learning environment has given me the opportunity to improve my athletic ability through the insights of our athletes. I have picked up on some of the techniques our athletes use, and hopefully sharing them will mentally equip you for your next intrinsic battle of whether to give up or persevere. Let’s call them “Jedi Mind Tricks” which will hopefully empower you in maneuvering through, over, and around your mental wall.
1. Analyze and Breakdown your Workout/Routine
Seasons have officially changed and fall is upon us. For many dedicated runners this is the peak of the competition season. You’re in mid-season form, but the wear and tear on your body is starting to take its toll. It can be daunting looking at a training program or even just planning your daily run. Do yourself a favor and break it down into smaller, more manageable segments.
I named this technique the “Numbers Game”. It can be used to help you dissecting the task at hand into smaller, more easily attainable goals to help you stay confident as you work your way to the finish line. For example if you have tasked yourself with running a 10k, break it down into two 5k’s. Or maybe take it a step further and break it down by the mile.
Jedi Mind Trick #1: “The Numbers Game”. The idea behind this method is to trick your brain into thinking you’re almost done, when in fact you’re just about at the break point. Each segment should still be just challenging enough, but be cautious about breaking it down into too many segments.
2. Three Birds -One Stone
Runners call this many different things: cadence, zone, rhythm, etc. Cadence is the number of times at which your legs make contact with the ground in 60 seconds. Perfecting this technique can make you a better all-around runner and help prevent injuries.
The most elite runners in the world rarely see their cadence drop below 180 steps per minute, just think about that for a moment; that’s three steps every second for marathon like distances. Athletes who are new to the sport of running typically run with a cadence around 160, but like any skill this can be improved over time with practice. Not only is it a performance mark of an “elite” runner, but it can also help reduce your risk of incurring injury while you run.
Increasing step rate reduces the amount of stress applied to your hips and knees. A lower cadence is often synonymous with bounding strides which increases the amount of stress to those joints, increasing the risk of running related injuries.
Jedi Mind Trick #2: Find out what your cadence is right now . Take the progressive steps to slowly increase your steps as close as possible to the optimal level of 180 steps per minute. Running can get painful at some points, by perfecting your form and cadence you can improve your performance, endurance, and reduce your risk of injury. So that’s like what -three birds with one stone?
3. Let the Music Move You
Everyone has that jam. When it comes on you literally can’t help but shake your arms and legs, scream the chorus out at the top of your lungs and dance to the music. There have been a number of studies done on athletes who listen to music while they train. Music has a range of effects on an athlete; for the sake of time and to keep this short and sweet here I will discuss be the effects of disassociation and synchronization.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain” said the late, Bob Marley. Believe it or not he wasn’t kidding. When an athlete is training to the accompaniment of music, the brain uses the music as a diversion technique to help keep you from focusing on the fatigue or pain that running can bring.
Synchronization is another consequence of listening to music while you engage in repetitive exercise (rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing, and running). While it may not always be the most attractive courting display, but your body naturally wants to move when it hears music. When exercise and music are combined together it helps the athlete conserve, and burn their oxygen more efficiently; 7% more efficient to be exact.
Jedi Mind Trick #3: Find the song(s) that help you disassociate and synchronize. When you feel like you can’t take another bounding stride, here comes your music to the rescue. If you really want to dig into the effects music can have on your performance, run2r.com has created a chart linking Beats per Minute (BPM) to mile times. Just a word of caution, many races have banned the use of headphones because of the performance enhancing effects it can have. Make sure you check with the race director or the official rules before racing competitively with your music.
4. Get Motivated
Whether you realize it or not when you’re pushing hard and really fighting through the pain you are talking to yourself. It can either be negative or positive-self talk. Negative self-talk is going to slow you down and make you feel heavy, eventually ending up like our runner from before on the side of road. Positive self-talk is going to allow you to keep moving, even if it’s at a snail’s pace, you’re still moving.
A lot of athletes, whether they realize it or not, do have a mantra; a short, meaningful phrase to expresses their core beliefs: “mind over matter”, “dig deep”, “keep pushing” are just some examples. A mantra is unique to every individual. If you don’t think you have one or want to find one which works for you; the next time you are really struggling with something whether it is work related, a personal situation, or a physical activity, listen to yourself. Once you have mastered positive self-talk your mantra will be hidden within yourself.
Jedi mind trick #4: Be a self-motivator. Use the power of your mantra to break through to new heights and drive you towards the finish line, whatever or where ever it may be.
Now back to our struggling runner…
His legs feel like cinder blocks, lungs burning like last night’s embers in the camp fire. Sweat drips off his brow in rhythm to his short and slowing steps. What is happening, he asks, why am I so tired? Stopping to catch his breath and regroup he wonders if he should go on. He has just hit the mental wall.
He takes a couple deep, long breaths to refresh his lungs with some crisp 02. Scrolling through the playlist on his phone he sees “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, hits play and tosses the head phones back in.
“Two more one mile segments and you’re done” he says aloud “mind over matter.” All of a sudden he feels light, the air crisper than before, goosebumps begin to form small ripples across his arms, his legs become weightless. Striding to the music his breathing becomes steady and powerful; in through the nose, out through the mouth. He’s done it. The moment you break through your mental wall the mind becomes a blank canvas, where new boundaries, PR’s, and self-confidence paint a picture of the developing athlete.
A note from the editor:
The hardest advice to take is your own. All of this these Jedi Mind Tricks mean nothing if not tested. So this is my Jedi Mind Tricks run, where I used every one of the tricks I just discussed. The one I found to be most helpful was constantly checking my cadence and making sure I was taking short quick strides. My goal was to not stop running until I crossed the imaginary finish line; accomplished my goal, I did.