Increase Your Athletic IQ
Tap into your â€˜athletic intelligenceâ€™ to transform your race performance, says Christie Aschwanden
Whether youâ€™re trying to finish your first race, nail a PB or increase your weekly mileage, runners who are most successful in achieving their goals have a high â€˜athletic intelligenceâ€™.Â
Thatâ€™s a catchy way of saying these athletes are skilled at reading their bodyâ€™s cues and making the necessary on-the-spot adjustments â€“ to their pace, form or attitude â€“ to power through their training runs and races, says Dominic Micklewright, a sports psychologist at the University of Essex.Â
Hereâ€™s how you can raise your athletic IQ to reach your full performance potential.
Tune in to your body
Many runners try to ignore the various twinges and aches they experience during a workout. Rather than spending the run dismissing these sensations, â€œpay attention and learn what they meanâ€, says Micklewright.Â
Your goal is to get to the point where you know your body so well that you can distinguish between the fatigue and muscle burning thatâ€™s part of pushing through or what could be the start of an injury. â€œItâ€™s only by listening to your bodyâ€™s cues that you know what theyâ€™re telling you,â€ he says.
IQ Booster: Â Leave your gadgets at homeÂ
At least for the next few workouts, says John Raglin, a sports psychologist at Indiana University, US. Youâ€™ll learn to rely less on the objective data that youâ€™re receiving from your heartrate monitor or GPS and more on the wisdom your body is providing.Â
It also helps to do a self-check every mile or so, adds Cindra Kamphoff, a sports psychology consultant and professor at Minnesota State University, US.Â
â€œJust take a moment to consider how your legs feel and how your heart feels,â€ she says. â€œThat way youâ€™re reminding yourself to take in those body cues and decide what to do with the information â€“ push through, back off or bail.â€
Plan for (a little) pain
Running your PB is going to hurt â€“ sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If you expect and prepare for this discomfort, â€œthen you can reframe how you think of painâ€, says Kamphoff, whoâ€™s studied the mental strategies of both recreational and elite marathoners.Â
This kind of preparation also teaches you what youâ€™re capable of tolerating. â€œPain you expect is easier to cope with, especially if youâ€™re confident you can handle it,â€ Micklewright says.Â
Studies show that recreational runners tend to listen to music or daydream to distract their minds from their pain, whereas top runners zone in on it.Â
â€œMany elites tell me they push harder to overcome discomfort,â€ says Kamphoff. â€œThey step it up a notch, and say they soon feel better.â€
IQ Booster: Set small mid-run goals
Most of the top runners Kamphoff studied talked about changing up their workouts and races. For example, say you set out for a six-mile tempo run and at mile one youâ€™re just not feeling it.Â
Instead of giving in to the urge to turn around, tell yourself your new goal is to just make it to mile two.Â
At mile two, reassess and challenge yourself to a new target. â€œOften we bail too early,â€ she says. â€œSetting mid-run goals makes it less overwhelming.Â
â€œAt mile 15 you shouldnâ€™t be thinking about mile 20 â€“ you need to be in the present.â€
Sometimes, the only way to learn where your personal strengths and limits lie is to make a mistake, says Micklewright. â€œHow do you know how far you can push yourself until you push yourself just a little too far?â€ he says.Â
That kind of experience helps you find your limits and gain a better understanding of what you are capable of, both physically and mentally.
IQ Booster: Do a post-run self-evaluation.Â
â€œMost elite marathoners donâ€™t talk about poor workouts,â€ says Kamphoff. â€œThey focus on what went well in the workout.â€Â
That could be simply saying that you went out for your run, or it could be using your stretch time to replay the workout in your mind and list the best thing or two that happened.Â
â€œIf runners, who tend to want perfection 100 per cent of the time, can learn to stay positive while theyâ€™re pushing through the difficult parts of training, theyâ€™ll build their confidence and see better performance results.â€
Control your self-image
Research has shown that marathoners who expect to hit the wall do indeed hit it, says Kamphoff.
â€œIn any race you need to imagine yourself strong,â€ she says. â€œPay attention to the images in your mind, and be ready to adjust them if you need to talk yourself out of a tough spot.â€
IQ Booster: Write a performance statement
This is a brief sentiment that will become your mantra â€“ itâ€™s something you can say to yourself when you start to drag. Itâ€™s important to draft something thatâ€™s personal and that will have meaning to you, but it should address pushing through fatigue and/or discomfort.
Good examples include â€˜I am mentally and physically strongâ€™ or â€˜Push, I can do thisâ€™. This statement will also double as a visual cue.
â€œHaving it down in black and white gives it more power,â€ she says. â€œSo I tell runners to post their statement where theyâ€™ll see it before a workout.â€
Head over heels
When the hurt sets in, reboot with these mind tricks.
Change doesnâ€™t happen in your comfort zone.Â
â€œYou need to push through discomfort to see gains,â€ says John Raglin. â€œBut if all youâ€™re thinking about are your sore feet and legs, your brain can produce a stress response that increases the ache.â€ Try these strategies to keep your head in the game. Â
Give yourself a pep talk
Remind yourself of a time when you topped your expectations. Positive self-talk can help improve your concentration in the race.
Refocus your thoughts
If you still canâ€™t get your mind off your agony, try naming as many TV detectives as you can think of. This task will keep your brain busy enough to suppress the stress response.
Find your rhythm
Try counting from one to eight over and over again; concentrating on a repetitive, rhythmic pattern has a calming effect on your mental state.
Look for little victories Â
Tell yourself that this sprint will be over in 30 seconds, or that in 10 seconds youâ€™ll be at the top of the hill. Setting small targets helps you to maintain intensity.Â
Time to use your imagination
During the marathon, picture yourself as a tiger hunting down prey. This kind of strong visualisation reroutes your mind away from your pain.
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