By Frederick C. Surgent:
Coming out of winter attempting to maintain your aerobic fitness level from the previous running season is difficult. Indoor workouts are boring and regimented to the point of just going through the motions without any real thought to improving. With spring fast approaching and the summer running season ahead, a different mindset is required to refocus on the mental and physical aspects of making significant improvements in running performance; the runner needs to reassess what has been done in the past, set a template for future success, and move toward achieving at the highest level possible. The following eight principles are key to any runner’s plan for reaching their full potential.
Principle 1 – Motivation
Motivation is of primary importance in any endeavor in life. To reach full potential, the runner must feel a need to do so. Once the runner accepts the fact that it will take a good deal of time and effort to achieve their goal, the pursuit to individual greatness begins. To achieve this individual greatness, the runner will need to stay focused and maintain intensity for training, and feel a need to achieve throughout the program.
Principle 2 – Set goals
To succeed, the runner will need to set goals. These goals should be achievable, yet difficult enough for the runner to have to work hard to reach them. The ultimate goal the runner sets for their self will take a good deal of time to reach; it’s important to set small goals along the way so the motivation to reach the runner’s individual greatness can be maintained.
Principle 3 – Employ mental Toughness
Mental toughness is a disposition that fosters a need to stick to it – to persist in the wake of failure, and push beyond a person’s limits even when failure presents itself. To develop such a characteristic, runners need to discipline themselves to overcome the multiple situations that they will encounter on race day. This may sound simple; however, a runner must be committed to not only run in unusual environmental conditions over challenging terrain, but also organize successful strategies to deal with the many uncomfortable physical and mental conditions that may present themselves during the race. Keeping these thoughts in mind during practice situations should be a priority.
Principle 4 – Utilize imagery
Imagery should be a basic part of any athlete’s training; for a runner, it is crucial to succeeding. The key to using imagery is its individualization to the runner – the runner must relate directly to what it is they do in their running and translate this information to the brain, so it becomes a part of them and what they are and how they will perform in the future. Doing this requires visualizing a clear image of the run using as many senses as possible in the process, and kinesthetically feeling what the body is doing during the run and experiencing positive emotions throughout the run. This last factor is an integral part of the process. It can be elusive, but includes the joy, self-satisfaction, and exhilaration a runner feels during a run. Runners are sometimes not aware of the impact emotions have on ability. Using this modality prior to, during and following a run will improve running performance.
Principle 5 – Train With a Purpose
Running for the fun of it is okay once in a while, but most runs should have a specific purpose in mind. Designing a training program best suited for the runner should be based on both physiological and psychological attributes of the runner. Working together with a coach, the runner should be able to plan the type of program that will ultimately improve performance. Having input from the both the coach and runner should yield the results both are seeking.
Principle 6 – Plan a Diet That Works For the Runner
Fueling the body for running great distances each day is as important as the training itself. The body is an engine that needs the proper nutrients to carry out its task; gumming up the works by eating foods not suited to the runner will lead to failure. While there are many different types of diets (vegan, high carbs, high fat, etc.), it ultimately comes down to the individualization of the runner. When planning your diet, consider:
(1) What are my needs to keep my weight stable?
(2) Am I taking in the proper amounts of the micro and macro nutrients necessary for what I do?
(3) Am I getting enough protein?
(4) What do I need to take during long endurance runs to sustain my pace and not cause digestive problems?
(5) What seems to work best for me just prior to a race?
(6) What seems to work best during a race? Testing and re-testing what to eat for meals – prior to races and during races, if necessary – is the best way to determine what works for each individual runner.
Principle 7 – Sleep to Train Hard
Lack of sleep has been shown to compromise carbohydrate metabolism, thus affecting the muscular system with reduced glycogen storage, lack of energy to carry out training protocols, and a less-than-optimal immune system. Sleep deprivation can also lead to psychological problems that negatively affect performance; it can reduce energy levels to the point of having a detrimental effect on emotional wellbeing. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all result from being deprived of sleep; these psychological conditions will begin overloading the
brain with worry, apprehension, and tension, which may translate from brain to body – causing muscles to tighten, digestive problems, confusion, lack of concentration, and a host of other problems related to poor running performance.
Principle 8 – Include Rest and Recovery in the Program
The desire to go beyond what has been accomplished in the past can sometimes lead to over-zealousness to over-train, resulting in physical fatigue and mental draining. The key is to train smart: the runner needs to consider how they feel each day prior to training and not go too far. Evaluating what needs to be accomplished each session prior to training runs and after should provide the runner with enough information to make good decisions about what they have done and what needs to be done the next day to continue improving. Part of any training program to improve performance requires proper rest and rcovery. The runner needs to keep this concept in mind throughout the training and racing season.
Frederick C. Surgent is a retired emeritus professor from the Kinesiology and
Recreation department at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD. During his 45 years in the department he taught both undergraduate and graduate students in the disciplines of Nutrition, Physical Fitness, Sport Psychology and Physiology of Exercise. Along with teaching, he coached many men’s sports teams including soccer, gymnastics and the track and field team. He’s also participated in several 5K, 10K, half marathons, marathons, and sport