Building A Toolbox of Mental Strategies for Running Success

Updated: May 10

Dear Team Chaski,

My training is going well right now, but I'm struggling with confidence and motivation. I have trouble when it gets hard during workouts and races because I always revert into negative thought patterns. Can you help?


Runners in the Rut

Executing a mentally perfect race is rare, but I still vividly remember the race that was the closest I’ve ever gotten. The night before the race I was really scared because it was an obstacle race. After the course preview, I called my coach saying “there’s no way I’m going to be able to make it through those obstacles.” His advice was to attack the obstacles without hesitation.

My perspective shifted to believing that I was going to attack every obstacle without hesitation and focus on being proud of myself if I just made it to the finish line. So on race day, that’s exactly what I did; I focused on one obstacle at a time, allowing myself to only think about the obstacle in front of me, and celebrating each obstacle I made it through.

The last one was a giant mud pit that was the hardest 50 meters of a race in my life, but I took it one muddy crawling step at a time. When I crossed the finish line, I can genuinely say I was proud of myself for just making it there. I actually ended up winning the race as well, which shows the power of a real shift in mindset.

So with that, I want to dive into some of these mental strategies that can help us achieve our goals and be proud of the work along the way.

Let’s start with two VERY MOST IMPORTANT things:

  1. You are far more than just a runner, and even when running isn’t going exactly like you pictured, everyone still loves you and thinks just as highly of you. I had to learn this one the hard way, so I like to make sure all the runners of the world know that you are loved for who you are and not what you do. 

  2. Everyone has ups and downs, and if you are one of the people who can learn and grow from those moments, you will be better, stronger, and more resilient for it. Every Chaski coach has doubted their abilities, toughness, or fitness more than once. All those things are normal. Practicing how we respond to those things helps us become better athletes and people. Recognizing we have the ability to choose our mindset is the first step to changing our mindset. 

But let’s dig into the details!

What is your why?

I used to think running was all about running fast, winning races, and living up to expectations. That’s stressful and not always very fun. When I figured out that running was a lot more than that, I found what running meant to me and fell in love. So when we hit points in training and racing when things get hard, it’s important to know why we’re out there doing it.

"It's really hard to have strong motivation without a strong why."

I want you to take a minute to remind yourself why you’re running, what made you become a runner, and the things you enjoy beyond trying to run fast. Close your eyes, brainstorm, and write these things down! What does running mean to you?

Shift From an Outcome to Process Oriented Mindset

A process oriented strategy is one of the keys to achieving big goals. This means establishing process goals, not just outcome goals.

"Process goals are smaller steps along the way that help to set up for potential success in our outcome goals. Besides that, they are independent successes from those outcome goals."

For me, it was focusing on each obstacle and celebrating each time I made it through one, even if it wasn’t pretty. As you think about your big goals, I challenge you to identify some process goals that would help you work toward achieving that big goal, but that you would also be proud of achieving even if you fall a little short of the big goal.

There is always something to get out of every race, even if it is not a PR. I always encourage athletes to take a few minutes after races to identify the thing they did well and any process oriented goals they achieved.

Some examples of process oriented goals might be:

  • pushing hard at the end of races and workouts regardless of pace

  • getting better at tempo and threshold work

  • improving top end speed