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How to Become a Better Runner by Training Your Brain

They say that a major part of workout success comes from your mental toughness. If you can visualize it and set your goals, the physical part of fitness will just come naturally, right? Turns out, there could be some major truth to that, especially when it comes to running.

Hitting a new PR or mile time is no easy feat. You can do speed drills, join running groups, and hop on the treadmill any chance you get. But if research has shown us something, it’s that training your brain is just as important as training your body when it comes to becoming a better runner.

A 2014 study published in the journal American College of Sports Medicine proved that mental training can actually help you talk your body out of exhaustion. Just think: you’re seven miles into a half-marathon and you feel it. Your feet, legs, and lungs hurt. You’ve been racing for upwards of an hour and it’s getting tougher and tougher with each step. But, as researchers proved, self-talk and confidence is an effective way to power through an endurance workout.

But apart from pumping yourself up mid-run, here’s what else you can do to train your brain for running:

1. Be proud of the little wins

Was your form spot-on? Did you hit your goal mile time for at least one mile of the entire run? Was your recovery — thanks to your nutritional plan and stretching routine — fairly flawless? Those are all “wins,” so own them. Be proud of the small steps you took to get to where you are now. They’re the ones that will power you through to your next run. Remember them the upcoming time you lace up and you’re more likely to experience them again.

Research published by the Harvard Business Review in 2011 showed that small victories can fundamentally improve your progress and shift your thinking for success. 

2. Visualize the finish line

You can see it now: crossing the line, fists pumping in the air, that medal being placed around your neck. It’s practically there, within your reach. And, in fact, it really is. Just remember to not take your eye off the prize… literally. A 2004 study confirmed that training your brain and visualizing your goals could actually strengthen your performance, so much so that even Olympic athletes use it to prepare for their worldwide stage.

3. Find your mantra and repeat it… a lot

“You can do it,” “this too shall pass,” or “just keep running”… they’re the mantras of some of the world’s most famous athletes and they could work for you too. A 2017 review by Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent showed that self-talk has been a part of sports psychology for years, and will likely continue to hold its place because spoiler alert, it works.

These three easy steps are not only mentally powerful, but stand as proof that boosting your brain means boosting your performance. So lace up, improve your thinking, and you’ll be moving faster.

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