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How to Think Like an Elite Runner

Think about your running heroes—they may include Olympians as well as the talented pack leaders in your local running scene. Of course, most people aren't blessed with the lightning-like fast-twitch muscle fibers of Usain Bolt or the innate prowess of their neighborhood podium climbers. But some of the traits you admire in them—their confidence, concentration, and commitment—are within you. You just have to tap into your hidden inner potential. The mental strategies that follow are based on classic studies and the latest research findings in performance psychology. These tips will help you learn how to think, feel, and act like a champion so you can develop a mindset that'll unlock your full athletic ability.

Stay Positive Identify your self-defeating thoughts—"I suck at this," "I'm not fast enough"—and challenge them with encouraging statements. When a negative emotion strikes, stop it in its tracks. For example: "My split time is off. I'm feeling stressed. Stop. Breathe. I'm going to press the reset button and take a fresh, confident approach to my next mile."

Be Present Make an effort to focus and stay in the moment. Runners tend to have an inner dialogue about how well they are performing. You may overanalyze your technique or your pace, continuously compare yourself to others, and constantly project your final time. Such commentary keeps you removed from your actual performance. Focus all of your energy on execution, not self-analysis. Don't write the review of your performance until after it's over. Dave Scott, a six-time Ironman triathlon world champion, would repeat to himself during a race, "Do what I can do in this moment." That is, do your best in the here and now and resist the urge to criticize the past or stress about the future. Ignore anything that you consider a distraction, such as other runners, inclement weather, fatigue, negative thoughts, or boredom.

Push On Mental toughness is built by doing something that is hard over and over again, especially when you don't feel like doing it. Our society has conditioned us to believe that there should be no discomfort, to stop when we are uncomfortable. But the discomfort we feel when we're doing a challenging workout is an important part of the strengthening process. Push through your down days when you're not feeling your best (unless, of course, you are injured or ill). Dogged determination requires keeping your feet moving forward through inconveniences, discomfort, and insecurities to reach your goals.

Adapted from The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow, Ph.D. (Rodale, 2014).  Excerpt from Runner's World.

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