Achieve Your Running Goal – Running Therapy & Psychology
As runners, we know the importance of setting goals from training and racing and of then consistently and persistently following training plans and schedules that get us there. Whether it’s a goal about speed, distance, racing or some other aspects of running, having a goal keeps you focused, motivated and moving.
Recently, I’ve been gradually building up my long weekend runs towards an autumn ultra, and last Saturday headed out for a sixteen mile long run along the riverside here in Ely (on a beautiful sunny morning). In the past my goals have been for other races and distances and from 5k up to marathon and ultra marathon.
I’ve worked with many runners over the years and goals can vary from getting motivated enough to get out of the door, having the confidence to complete a first race or to run a whole 10k, getting over a psychological setback or injury, and having the mental strength to complete, to long distance racing (or running as part of an Ironman). And, of course, I’ve helped many runners with other issues, such as anxiety, stress, worry and depression, that have impacted upon their running and which, once resolved, mean they can enjoy running again.
And I think we know that, without a running goal of some kind, it’s easy to just plod along run after run with no specific aim from each run, from each training period and with nothing in particular to aim for. I’ve found in the past that without a running goal, my running can plateau a bit, the temptation to cut short a challenging run gets greater, training levels become more constant, and the fire and determination from having a race to aim for just isn’t present.
When you have a goal, you also want to build your confidence, motivation and self-belief that you can complete it successfully. To help you achieve your running goal, you want to be able to dispel any negative inner dialogue or anxiety and you want to enjoy the process so that you can perform to your running best on the day. By using your mindset, you can build upon your training and hard work so that you can perform to the best of your ability and achieve your running goals.
I can well remember the training, persistence and effort involved involved in trying to break forty minutes for a 10k race. At the time there were a bunch of us at Ely Runners all training at around the same pace, and all aiming for that goal at about the same time. In the peak Spring/early Summer 10k racing season, I had a series of races booked, all with that same goal of a sub-40 10km.
Yet, I kept finding myself hitting three, two or even one second over the magic forty minute mark. Now, over 6.2 miles, a few seconds is nothing, and certainly needing to run about one second faster over that distance was almost less than nothing! Yet try as I might, I just couldn’t bring my training together well enough to achieve my goal.
I would get tense before the race because of the pressure I was putting on myself. I would wonder, and even doubt, whether ‘today was the day’. A little unhelpful voice would creep in during tougher moments in the race, and I would yet again not quite hit the target. It wasn’t until I used my mind, as well as my body, that I achieved it. By directing my mindset, belief, imagination, inner dialogue, motivation and expectation towards that goal, I was able to go out and hit it several times in a row. I hadn’t changed my training; I had used running psychological processes to harness my training, to build my sense of self-efficacy, and to apply it to run at my best on the day.
It’s funny the kind of limitations and tricks our minds can play on us about our running. There was time (many years ago), when I genuinely would stop running in winter because it was too cold and I would then have to start every Spring from scratch (a London marathon place and need to train through the winter quashed that limiting belief!).
And we’ve all had those doubting, stressful, anxious, negative thoughts and feelings at some point when training or racing (even though we know most of those thoughts and feelings are totally unnecessary!). When you ask any runner how important mindset training and physical training are for running performance, they’ll probably tell you it’s somewhere around fifty:fifty. Yet, most runners probably spend less than one percent of their training on learning how to build confidence and self-efficacy, on taking control over thoughts and feelings and on performance and goal achievement psychology.
Whether it’s a 10k or a marathon, as a runner you’ll benefit from focus and motivation, from having a clear goal lodged in your mind and from directing your thoughts and feelings towards attaining your running goal. Rather than just hoping for the best, you can build confidence and self-belief, you can direct all of your efforts in the same direction, and you can use your mindset to help you to succeed and achieve your running goal.
The Importance of Goal Setting
Without a running goal you can lack direction and inspiration in your running, and could easily find yourself drifting aimlessly or getting distracted. Having a running goal brings determination, direction and enhances your running performance.
You want your goal to be challenging enough to inspire you and to bring enjoyment and fulfilment, yet not so difficult that you feel too tense and anxious and lose belief in your own ability. Having a goal brings focus and enthusiasm towards your training, your preparation and your mindset. You get to improve and develop and find better ways of doing things that work well for you.
According to Locke (1981), specific, challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy goals, ‘do your best goals’ or having no goal. Goals direct your attention, mobilise your efforts, enhance your persistence and lead to developing new strategies.
I think every runner can look back and notice how they have learnt and developed as a result of experience, watching others, coaching and an element of trial and error. Whether it’s kit, distance, pace, frequency, nutrition, training surfaces, training schedules, rest times or another aspect of running, having a goal that you wish to attain pushes you to try things and to find what works best for you (and as the sage advice goes, you don’t want to be trying anything new on race day).
There are many aspects that go into setting effective running goals, and certainly one often neglected aspect in goal setting involves asking the question, ‘what do I need to do reach my goals?’ (Weinberg, 2013). You can have both short and longer term goals but you want to make sure you revisit them and review them to see how you are progressing towards them based upon your running performance.
One area you certainly want to incorporate into supporting the achievement of your goals, is your mindset and psychology. Using the correct strategies you can learn to control your thinking, build self-belief, increase focus and determination, regulate your emotions and add direction and belief in your own ability into enhancing your running performance (and you’ll likely enjoy your running a whole lot more too).
Achieve Your Running Goal
Having a running goal mobilises effort, adds direction, focus and motivation, enhances your persistence and helps with better performance. If you want to perform to the best of your ability and achieve your running goal then you can get your mindset on board with these steps:
1. Ensuring you are sitting somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you, or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other ways that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.
You can also use either of the processes covered in these articles: The Eye Fixation Induction In Hypnosis, Mindfulness For Anxiety, Stress and Promoting Mental Health
2. Now bring to mind a run that you consider to have been a successful run. It could be a time when you achieved a personal best, ran well in a race or in training, or were pleased with your running in some way. Recall it as vividly as you can and imagine being back in that moment now, like you are there running again, seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard and feeling the feelings of running well.
Notice the colours, shades of light and the details. Notice the sounds nearby and any further away, remembering this run where you felt accomplished, you ran well, you felt accomplished or you succeeded in a goal. Run through it as vividly and with as much detail as you can.
As you run through this time, notice all the things that tell you that you are running well. Remind yourself of what you accomplished here, how capable you were and that you ran here successfully. There may be other times where you’ve run successfully that you can bring to mind here too.
3. Keeping those good feelings from your successful run, now, bring to mind your running goal and what you want to achieve in your running.
With your running goal in mind, imagine watching yourself on a big movie screen successfully achieving that goal. Visualise yourself successfully completing that run, hitting that time, running with good form, overcoming challenges during the run and achieving your personal running goal.
Imagine it as best as you can and make it as vivid as you can inside your mind. Imagine watching yourself, thinking, feeling and performing the way that you want to in this run. If you want to, you can imagine some upbeat music playing as a soundtrack to this movie of your successful performance.
As you imagine watching yourself running successfully, think about how good you’ll feel when you achieve this goal. Feel good as you imagine this performance inside your mind.
4. As you watch yourself in your imagination achieving your running goal, think to yourself ‘I just know that’s going to happen.’ Think it to yourself like you really mean it: ‘I just know that’s going to happen’. In the same way that you know that if you drop a brick it will fall to the floor, or in the same way that you know your name or that the grass is green, think it with real belief and undeniable conviction. As you watch yourself thinking, feeling and doing everything exactly as you want it to be, really think to yourself how you can do this, how you’re capable of doing this and how you believe in yourself to achieve this goal.
5. And knowing that it’s just going to happen, now imagine stepping into this version of you. See through these eyes, hear with the ears and feel the feelings of this you running successfully. Play through your run inside your mind, and experience being this version of you in every way. Run through things as you get ready to run, as you set out, through your run and all the way through to successfuly achieving your goal. Imagine running having the feelings, coping with things effectively and being encouraging and confident in your self-talk. See, hear and be this you and mentally rehearse this run inside your mind.
Really think to yourself how you know you are capable of this and how you know with conviction that you can do this. Affirm it to yourself with real belief so that you know that it’s just going to happen and where it strengthens your sense of focus, confidence and self-belief.
5. Then, having done so, and knowing that it’s just going to happen, and knowing that you’ve got this, now, count up from 1 up to 5 inside of your mind, open your eyes and reorientate yourself to your surroundings.
Do make use of this awesome running psychology process to make sure that your mind and body are both on track to support you achieving your running goal (and do message me to let me know how you get on with smashing your goals!).
To your running success,
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Locke, E.A., Shaw, K.N., Saari, L.M. and Latham, G.P., 1981. Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological bulletin, 90(1), p.125.
Weinberg, R.S., 2013. Goal setting in sport and exercise: research and practical applications. Revista da Educação Física/UEM, 24(2), pp.171-179.