Mental Training to Face Trails
Endurance runs are hard and more so when racing on trails. They require months of logging miles, doing balance, stabilization, and flexibility work to ward off injury, finding the correct hydration and fueling routine, learning to deal with challenging terrain and weather, and, maybe most importantly, fine-tuning your mental game. We know endurance racing is not only physical but also mental. While it is important to build your physical strength and longevity, it is also important to include mental training into your program to get the best experience when out on the trails.
Trail races are challenging but ultimately so rewarding. The struggle you put your body and mind through to run 15, 37, or 100-kilometers, climbing steep ascents, balancing yourself on rough terrain and debris, acclimating yourself to the altitude, for hours and hours on end, all while putting a bet on yourself to finish in the allotted time frame can seem, at times, impossible. But accomplishing such a feat allows you to take on breathtaking views while bringing on a higher belief in your capabilities and an overall sense of pride in your successes. However, getting from point A to point B will ultimately require both physical and mental training.
When you decide to attempt such ambitious goals, it will require defeating any self-doubts or fears and maintaining enthusiasm for the race during the months of preparation. To get your mind right, we have some tips and tricks to help with your mental training.
Document Your Why
Venturing into new territory like trail racing is thrilling for many reasons, but it is vital to understand why. Once the decision to participate in a trail race and registration has been completed, many weeks and months will be necessary to reach this goal. To defeat fatigue and boredom, it is essential to clarify your reasoning behind reaching this challenging feat.
Journaling is a simple task to help define your intention and purpose. Maybe you are an experienced roadrunner hoping to discover new avenues to expand your racing resume. Maybe you want to challenge yourself in distance or difficulty. Maybe you are returning from an injury and looking to avoid high impact cement surfaces. The reasons are your own but defining them for yourself can help you with your intentions to follow through.
A 2009 study from the Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology had 25 recreational long-distance runners participate in a 4-week intervention on Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE). These were weekly workshops including meditation, body scanning focusing on form and breathwork, and yoga. The results found that MSPE was a useful mental training intervention for improving mindfulness and decreasing anxiety and worry related to the sport.
Mindfulness and mental training are just as important as physical training for long-duration exercise. Endurance and trail runners need to learn strategies that help to combat fatigue, boredom, pain, performance anxiety, and negative thoughts. Such activities can include walking meditation, body scanning, breathing, and yoga practices.
Are you familiar with Marie Kondo? She is a Japanese organization consultant, author, and tv host on decluttering your life. She says to keep your life simplified, you must ask yourself if an item brings you joy. This organization technique can also translate over into sport.
Take, for example, The Olympics who adhere to a value system of Olympism which is an idea for all-round cultivation of the athlete. The principle is achieving a balance between the body, will, and mind in which there is joy during effort. In turn, this ideology could be used towards your race training in which most of your workouts should invoke a spirit of joyfulness.
There is science to back all this up. A 2018 study from the Public Library of Science gave 1,256 endurance athletes three questionnaire tools to examine their mental toughness. As a result, those with higher mental toughness achieved satisfaction in sport due to their positive self-perceptions towards physical well-being, pre- and post-practice well-being, athletic performance, and sports vitality. In other words, long term endurance sport adherence improves with increased levels of satisfaction.
A 2018 literature review from Sport Psychology looked at the science behind goal setting in sports. According to this publication, athletes are most successful in reaching long term goals when they practice mental acceptance of challenges along the journey. These athletes also put most of their focus on adaptive short and mid-term goals rather than on the final long term goal.
This type of mental training coincides with process-oriented goal setting rather than the training for the final goal by itself. By focusing on only the final goal creates overwhelming performance pressure and as a result, switches your focus to your inability in being able to complete the goal. By transitioning your focus to the process, you shift your attention to more manageable daily tasks. Being process focused rather than goal-focused establishes building blocks and mental toughness throughout the journey.
Find a Support System
Having self-determination is a great virtue to strive for and accomplish tough goals. However, having a support system in place that backs you up, makes the task of achieving difficult goals all that much more possible.
Whether you have a running coach, running club, family, friends, or virtual friends via a social forum, having someone by your side to help instill your confidence can also help to alleviate fears and anxiety. Finding and utilizing encouraging communities is a great tool to help you get through your trail race training journey.
To ward off performance pressures of trail runs, one must find strategies to minimize fear and anxiety. By putting to practice the steps mentioned above to help with mental training to face trail runs, athletes will have several ways to increase their focus towards self-belief, motivation, and mental toughness. Having an awareness that the training journey will have days that consist of both good and bad, from a mental standpoint, will help runners anticipate and react better to challenges that can occur come race day.