Running Psychology: Increase Running Performance By Picking The Pink
As my own running training ramps up a bit, I’ve been writing much more about running psychology and how you can improve your running performance. Drawing upon successful races and training runs can help you to increase confidence and belief in your own running ability so that you can overcome past poor performances and achieve your future running goals.
If you want to run to the best of your ability and potential, then applying elements of running psychology will certainly help you. You can take control over your self-talk, confidence, self-belief, imagination, motivation and many other aspects of your thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. You can harness and direct your mindset towards running how you want to.
Today I’m talking about some research that goes to demonstrate just how important your psychology is towards your performance when running.
It’s incredible how much what goes on in your head can impact upon your running performance. That little voice in your head can help you push on and improve, or can niggle away and undermine you. What you imagine before and during a run can influence your motivation, confidence and arousal levels. Your confidence and belief in your running ability has a huge bearing on how well you run. And then there are all the other factors that can get in your head, from tiredness, hills, other people and more. I’ve known runners who smash it in training, only to be overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt at the starting line of a race. I’ve known runners who find that the negative thoughts sabotage what they are doing. And there are runners who are able to consistently perform, run well and stay up beat due to what goes on inside their heads, and who may even perform above expectations as a result.
And your mind is even more amazing than that. If you perceive something to be beneficial then it can improve your running performance, simply due to your expectation of a positive outcome (which is perhaps why so many runners and sports people have certain consistent rituals or habits that they carry out because they perceive them to be beneficial).
Here is more evidence of how your mind impacts upon your running performance…
Improving Your Running Performance
If you’ve visited a physio anytime in the last few years with a running related injury or niggle, then they may have used some of that sticky tape on you to aid your recovery. They cut a few strips of it and then stick it onto the relevant area to encourage blood flow (and if you have hair on your legs then it can encourage tears when you try and get the tape off a couple of days later!).
The tape comes in many different colours and whilst black or tan seem the most common, I’ve received bright blue and other colour tape in the past. I remember one physio getting out some bright (and I mean bright) pink tape one time and, no doubt seeing a smirk on my face as I thought about what my fellow runners might say about my bright pink taped legs when I was next training, he jokingly remarked how the pink tape made you faster than other colours!
Presumably this was because you will want to run well to carry off having pink tape on your legs! Or maybe he was seeking to call upon the proven psychology of the placebo response. After all, if I or someone else truly believed that pink tape made you run faster, then that expectation could be enough to boost running performance to some degree all by itself.
And it may be that there is something in the colour pink for running performance based upon recent research.
Brown et al (2021) carried out a study to investigate whether mouth rinsing with a pink non-calorific, artificially sweetened solution can improve self-selected running speed and distance covered during a thirty minute running protocol. A sample of ten healthy and habitually active individuals took part in a thirty minute treadmill run and during this they mouth rinsed with either a pink or a clear non-calorific, artificially sweetened solution.
They found that mouth rinsing with the pink non-calorific, artificially sweetened solution improved self-selected running speed, total distance covered, and feelings of pleasure obtained during the run when compared to an iso-caloric and taste-matched clear solution.
That is, mouth rinsing with the pink option led to greater running performance (compared to the equivalent clear solution).
This may well be an example of the power of the placebo response, where the expectation of a positive outcome from the pink solution led to improved performance. Pink is associated with sweetness and it may be that this then created an expectation of benefit, perhaps from increased energy or as a boost from increased feelings of pleasure. In any event, it definitely shows the power of your mind to directly influence your running performance because apart from the pink colouring added, there was no material difference to the clear solution that it out-performed.
Before I head out for a long training run or race, I always have a pre-run drink that contains carbohydrates, sugars and caffeine. I like to think that it boosts my energy levels and mental focus and therefore my performance. Now there are plenty of active ingredients in it, yet it’s also likely that my own belief in its benefits and my expectation that it will help my running, add an additional level of improved performance (this research certainly supports that notion).
So how can you use this proven psychological response to support your own running performance?
Running Performance Enhancement
So the research here concluded that a pink solution could help you to improve running performance and effort, and to feel better during your running. It really does show the importance of your mindset and psychology in your running that making a drink pink could help you to run faster and longer. Whilst this was a small study, I think we can benefit from the underlying psychological processes to help you to improve your running.
Building upon this running research, follow these steps to use running psychology to enhance your running performance:
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 and run through 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 and of how capable 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 goals today, to be able to run faster and longer and with more good feelings and pleasure from your running. Really think about the effects that you will get from your hypnotic pink drink, what it will be like to run faster, or further, or with more pleasure, and how you’ll know you are doing that in your running performance. Really consider how you’ll know that you have successfully benefited from your hypnotic pink drink in your running performance, in what you do and how you do it.
4. Now, imagine being in your usual environment just before you run. Imagine being there, seeing what you would see, hearing what you would hear and thinking and feeling in your usual way as you prepare to run. Notice the colours, shades of light and the details. Be aware of the sounds around you and really tune into this place as you prepare to run.
And then imagine you have your pink beverage for advanced running performance there in front of you. See it there in a clear glass or recepticle of some kind. Imagine your pink drink is there in front of you and really notice the pink shade and colour of it.
Have it there in your mind, and as you look at it, once again remind yourself of the beneficial effects this pink solution is going to have for you. Remind yourself how it is going to help you to run faster or further, and the enhanced good feelings of pleasure and enjoyment it is going to bring to your running.
5. Really invest positive belief and expectation into your pink drink here today. Think to yourself how you know this is going to work for you, how you know those positive results are just going to happen, and how positive and enjoyable the outcomes are going to be for your running performance. Invest belief and conviction into your pink drink as you look at it. Think, feel and trust that this is going to work for you.
(If you want to, you can in advance have some kind of pink drink (not a pink gin though!) ready, perhaps a pre-run drink, that you can invest extra positive benefit, intention and expectation into through this process. If you have one ready, you can drink some or mouth rinse with it at this stage).
And then imagine drinking the pink liquid (or if you prefer, imagine rinsing it around your mouth as they did it the research). Drink it, swallow it or rinse it around your mouth. As you do so begin to imagine the positive effects spreading through you and connecting with every part of your physically and mentally. Perhaps you imagine the colour pink spreading from your mouth and into every part of you, or you could add the kind of sounds and sensations that mean you know that this pink drink is really having a positive effect upon you. Spread the performance enhancing benefits into every part of you now.
Remind yourself how this is having a positive impact upon you and your running. Tell yourself the kind if impact that will expect and notice, improving your running performance, running faster or longer, and deriving more pleasure from your running. Enjoy the effects spreading, amplifying and multiplying. Focus your mind upon the desired effects and then know in your mind that it’s going to happen.
6. Now think about being out on your run. Imagine being there, seeing the sights, hearing the sounds and feeling the positive sensations. Imagine being out on your run and notice how your performance is enhanced and improved. You run faster, longer and with more good feelings as you do so.
Be there in your mind, noticing everything in the environment and noticing those things that tell you that the pink drink you consumed is having a marvellous effect upon your running performance. Be aware of all the things that tell you how well this is working and how it is benefiting your running. Maybe there are aspects of your mindset that are sharper and more enhanced, or in the strength in your muscles, or in how you can get in the zone where you run well. Perhaps there are changes in your self-belief and your belief in your own ability to run faster or further; maybe you notice the things that tell you that you are deriving more pleasure and positivity as you run, or notice those other things that mean you know that you have benefited from the pink drink you used before you started running here.
7. 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 your mind, open your eyes and reorientate yourself to your surroundings.
Really enjoy this process and the running performance benefits of choosing the pink drink.
Funnily enough, this process and the research tend to remind me of the song, Lily the Pink, which the kids and I used to sing when they were younger: “We’ll drink a drink, a drink…To Lily the Pink, the Pink, the Pink…The saviour of the human race…For she invented medicinal compound…Most efficacious in every case.”
Have fun with this and enjoy the positive impact upon your running.
To your running success,
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Reference: Brown, D.R., Cappozzo, F., De Roek, D., Zariwala, M.G. and Deb, S.K., 2021. Mouth rinsing with a pink non-caloric, artificially-sweetened solution improves self-paced running performance and feelings of pleasure in habitually active individuals. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8, p.217.