Using Sports Psychology to Defeat Midrace Pain

Running is one of the most personally rewarding sports, but you’re going to hurt if you’re hoping to improve upon your best time – there is just no way around it. Whether you’re running a mile or a marathon, pushing through that infamous midrace pain is the only way to achieve a brag-worthy finish. However, there are a few simple mind tricks that can be employed which can greatly improve your chances of success, many of which revolve around a familiar concept – mind over matter.

Mind Over Matter

Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa recently discovered that your mind may in fact “shut down” your body as a protective mechanism even when you have more to give. Participants in the study where instructed to perform high-intensity exercise for as long as they were able to. However, once the participants threw in the towel, the real experiment began: researchers electronically stimulated their muscles which contracted with great force, proving that the body still had more to give even though the mind said it did not.

Director of research at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences in England, Samuele Marcora, Ph.D., says that while we run the brain weighs the perception of effort with a willingness to succeed, and we slow or stop when the former outweighs the latter. In other words, we can get more from our bodies if we change how we respond to physical effort and strain.

Give Thanks and Show Gratitude

Sport psychology may be a new concept for some, but many athletes and gamblers alike have been using mental tricks for decades in order to improve their performance – consider how players in games of poker or blackjack Canada bluff other players in order to succeed. By using these mind tricks, you are essentially bluffing your brain into allowing you to push harder and go further.

Karl Meltzer who recently set a new speed record for through-hiking the Appalachian Trial says his secret for handling pain is to remember how fortunate he is to be physically able to run and hike. Meltzer repeatedly thanked his support crew and stated that “showing gratitude almost always makes things better.”

Recall Previous Sacrifices

Matching the suck with motivation” is how ultrarunner Dylan Bowman pushes through the midrace pain, and he turns his mental focus towards the previous sacrifices he’s made to get to there. Bowman stated that he has won races he didn’t think he was capable of winning by focusing on all the time he has given up with friends and family in order to train harder and be better. It helps to be prepared, so ahead of a race think back to all the times you dragged yourself out of bed in order to run, and thinking about how far you’ve come can distract your mind from pain and discomfort in your body when the going gets tough.

Meditation for Improved Mental Fitness

There is growing evidence to suggest that meditating for just 8 weeks can activate structural changes in the brain related to self-regulation, which can help manage our response to highly emotional stimuli such as pain. Brandon Rennels, a mindfulness meditation teacher, says that meditation can help runners distinguish between physical pain and our emotional response to it: “Pain is bad enough, but the anxiety attached to pain can sometimes be even worse.” As such, Rennels recommends that beginners meditate for 1 minute a day, gradually increasing duration to reach a goal of mediating for 15-20 minutes or more per day.

Good luck and happy running!