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The Runner’s Mental Checklist

We talk a lot about staying focused while training, and especially racing. Mental focus (toughness) is one of the main things that separates middle of the pack and upper level athletes. Instead of trying to block out the pain, great athletes are constantly focusing on some part of their performance, and taking mental assessments of their body and exertion, so they can lessen the pain without having to let off the gas.

We recently sent out a newsletter encouraging people to become more sensitive to what their body is screaming at telling them. We offered up a mental checklist for cyclists to go through so they could work to reduce perceived exertion while maintaining effort. We were quickly asked by a newsletter subscriber what our checklist was for runners. While there are similarities, the mental checklist for runners is quite different.

The order in which you roll through the points isn’t all that important because you should be constantly going through each point one after another. Most of them revolve around mechanics, but are great reminders when you are tired.

Here is what we tell our athletes:


1. QUICK off the ground (keep cadence consistent)

2. PUSH backward (optimize stride length)

3. LOOK out on the ground not the horizon (keeping spine neutral)

4. POP the elbows straight back (powering the opposite leg drive)

5. LEAN from the ankle (not from the waist up)

6. BREATH rhythmically and from the abdomen (play around with different rhythms)

7. FUEL the machine (more for longer bouts of training/racing)

For ultra runners, we add in an 8th. IMPACT. Reducing (really redirecting) impact on the legs can be the difference in making it to the finish line or a DNF. Once the legs are fatigued from impact, there is no coming back. Remember, 6 miles on a treadmill, concrete, and trails are completely different levels of impact on the body. Impact can be adjusted several ways. More cushioned shoes, slower downhill running, avoiding too much jumping over or off things, etc.

You can use each of these things to try to remedy issues on the fly. Play around with different cadences and stride lengths (amount of push back, not amount of forward reach). More lean means more forward propulsion and less wasted vertical movement when you are running. Breathing can be the source and the solution for cramping, high perceived exertion, etc. And you never want to forget about fueling consistently if you are going long.


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