It's All in Your Head
By: George Straznitskas

Distance runners are, by and large, a bright lot. Sure, we've all met a few exceptions here and there, but I still think I'm pretty accurate. Check out your local high schools honor roll and you'll likely find the names of most, if not all, of the Cross Country team members listed. Coincidence? Probably not.

At the highest levels of competitive running, there seems to be many very bright human beings accomplishing nearly impossible goals. Bob Kempainen finished first in this years men's US Olympic Marathon Trials. Here's a guy who has managed to complete medical school while attaining world class status as an athlete. A couple of years ago, Patty Sue Plummer competed very successfully on the track the same weekend she passed her Bar Exam. These two people are not isolated examples.

Sports Illustrated's best writer ever (in my opinion) is former Olympic Marathoner Kenny Moore. It is no fluke that '68 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot is at op executive at Runner's World magazine, or that John L. Parker, formerly a national class miler, is an accomplished author who now heads up Running Times. Yale grad, and two-time Olympic Medallist marathoner Frank Shorter is an eloquent, insightful TV commentator and successful entrepreneur who also has his law degree. Bill Rodgers' disarming openness and humility be lies a deep intellect, honed social consciousness, and global perspective. Distance running competitors such as Gwen Coogan, Pete Pfitzinger, Tony Sandoval, Uta Pippig, Joan Samuelson, and a host of many, many others validate the thesis that people with strong minds, as well as strong bodies excel in distance running.

Many successful people are committed runners who credit their daily workout as being a major factor in helping them handle the rest of their life. For them running helps their mental state. For the competitive runner, sharpening the mental state can make them a better runner. Few athletes would argue with the belief that once a given fitness level is reached, the mental aspect of sport plays an increasingly important role is the achievement of goals. Particularly in a sport where success is earned by an individual, without the direct support of teammates, the home court, etc... To the distance runner, mental preparation is a most critical element to success.

Here are some tips for better mental preparation: VISUALIZATION - Apply this technique while lying in bed prior to falling asleep. Actually SEE yourself achieving your goal. If your goal is a 40 minute 10K, picture yourself with a strong start as the gun goes off, achieving targeted mile split times along the way. SEE yourself kicking it in under a digital display clock as the time ticks off 39:54...39:55...39:56... PUT ADVERSITY TO WORK FOR YOU - Out there on a hot, muggy day and feel like crap? Keep reminding yourself that your arch rival wouldn't be out there on a day like this...or, that he/she is. Whatever works. FOCUS - Pack your gym bag the night before the race. On the day of the race, zero in on the task at hand. Don't be distracted by those apparent thorough breeds gliding around you during the warm-ups. Be pleasant with others runners, but don't encourage long conversations. Plenty of time for that after you take care of business. Right now you want to think about exactly how you are going to run, and what it is you are set to accomplish on this day.