After a bit a break we are back to day with one of my favorite topics. I am often asked what components make up a great runner. There are many ways to look at this and how to answer this question. You can look at it from strictly a physiological perspective in terms of Lung capacity, VO2Max ratings, muscle fiber ratios, and other similar factors. Or you can look at it from a more "soft skills" perspective (by the way I hate this term as runners are anything but soft) such as coachabilty, work ethic, and drive. At some point it's a combination of all these factors and one can debate which is more important or what order they should be prioritized but today I want to talk to you about one component that is not only over looked but down right neglected. Those that can master this piece can become great runners, those that can't truly won't regardless of all the other factors combined. I'm talking about "Mental Strength" and its effect on the success of any runner from a world class record holder to a first time 5K weekend warrior. The mind will be a factor in how you succeed at running and many other aspects of your life.
So let's talk about what I mean by mental strength. I am not referring to how smart we are or even how smart we strategize for our races or tactics. This is important as well but we will leave that to another day. For now I'm referring to what occurs in your mind (some would say heart) when you are racing. Those spooky voices we all get that say "I can't do this" or "I'm too tired" or " I didn't get enough sleep last night" and so on. You all know what I'm talking about. The long list of 1000 excuses as to why we can't accomplish the goal we set out to do. If you think about there are many and they will be right there next to you next time you race and really every time you race. Just like the physical fatigue of any race the mental fatigue during a race is a real thing and can ruin any race for you if you let it. So if we follow this logic.... Why do we train endlessly to handle physical fatigue during a race but never really train to handle the mental fatigue? You would never think of not running a mile or very few before a big marathon race? Then why do we go into races with little to no preparation on the mental side? the answer is we shouldn't.
Mental Training should be a part of any runners training plan. By this we are not talking about taking a class or finding mental games to play on your phone. We are talking about getting your mind ready to respond to race conditions just the same way you do on the physical side. From a simple perspective we do hills to get ready for hills in races and run speed workouts to get ready to run faster at races so we need to figure out what our mind needs to be capable of doing in a race and duplicate that during practice. Some of these we do with out thinking. Hard AT runs are a great mental preparation for sustained long hard efforts. Speed work and hills prepare us to be confident we are ready to handle them and than in itself makes us mentally stronger. In addition to the occasion side benefits what can we do to specifically work the mind and get more mentally fit to race. If you are a coach you can do this with your athletes if you are self coach its a bit hard but still possible. Once in a while I like to add 1 or 2 additional reps during a speed workout but not tell my runners until after they have completed what they thought was the last rep. Some of you right about now are thinking "Evil Coach!" Here is the thinking behind this. Runners then to rush harder on the last rep. My runners call it "sandbagging". Then they all collapse in the finish area and take a breathe before starting the cool-down. I used to think this was a bad thing but in reality its the prefect setup. By asking them to run 1 more 400 or 1 more hill repeat I'm no only challenged their bodies push harder when exhausted but more importantly I'm going to show them that as hard as you think you are pushing in a race you can give just a little more, push just a little hard. The difference of the little more can mean the difference from 2nd place to winning or the missing a PR by 1 second and getting that PR. In reality that 1 extra rep won't make you all that much faster physically but the knowing that when you were asked to give me you were able to get off the ground and crank one more out and hit your time will make you mind stronger. You will gain confidence that when it get rough in a race and you think you can't give anymore you will find a way. The reason you will know it will work is why well because you have done it many times at practice already. So what if you don't have a coach to do this because the trick is not knowing when you will be asked to do more! You can do the following bring 3 pieces of paper folded up in your bag. One says 1 Extra Rep, one says 2 Extra Reps, and one says go home! When done pull a random one out of your bag and presto! This is just one example of how to become mentally tougher on your runs. You can run that extra mile you can throw in a mile at tempo pace at random times. None of which will get your injured or throw off your training but challenge you to respond and react to the "ask" when the race calls for more you will be ready to respond both physically and mentally!
This week we take you back to the summer of 2016. Not just to the Summer Olympics as many of you would expect but to courageous fight to make the Olympic team that took place a few weeks before. Imagine the sense set in Eugene Oregon, Hayward field with the eyes of an entire nation set on who would make the US Olympic team and represent out nation at the Rio 2016 Olympics. There is always drama and tons of heart pounding moments at every Olympic trials but nothing compares to what Brenda Martinez went through that year. For us who grew up in southern California like Brenda she is our local running hero and all of us were trilled to have the opportunity to watch her race and make the Olympic team in her bread and butter event the 800 meter race. Not a doubt in our mind that she would make the team and move on to Rio to represent the US. Well at least not until that faithful moment when our hearts stopped pounding and just stood still. You see during the 800 meter final at the trials she was just meters away from qualifying for the Olympics when her feet got tangled up with Alysia Montano which cause Brenda to stumble just enough to allow 4 runners to scream by her in the final meters of the race and kill her hopes of going to Rio. I clearly remember sitting in front of my TV in utter shock and dismay at what had occurred. How could this have happened? I was angry for her. I wanted someone disqualified or something to be done. But as it turned out there was no going back.
What was even more amazing and telling of Brenda's personality and character was what she did after the race. She didn't put blame or point fingers at anyone. She took the disappointment and pain she felt and absorbed it. She decided to take the higher road and now focus on her next race, the 1500. Most of us might have given up but not Brenda! She was out to get her rightful spot on that team before the trials end. The road will be harder but if anyone can do it Brenda could! Just days after the tragedy she moved past the prelims and the semis by winning her heats in the 1500 and was now back to this all familiar spot of 1 race to determine if she gets to run in Rio! And living up to the drama and trills of trials this was one for the all time memories. With 200 meters to go she was in 5th place and this was it. Do or die for Brenda and all her fans! She moved past one runner and now was neck and neck into the final meters of the race with Amanda Eccleston to the last 3rd place spot on the team. It all came down to the final lean and no one could tell who got it not even the runners themselves. Both leaning hard and stumbling through the line. It all came down to a photo finish and just like that Brenda had done what many thought was all over a few days before! Brenda Martinez had made the Olympic team in dramatic fashion! Hats off to Brenda for showing us that its never over and you should never give up!
Coach Rojas has 11 combined years of coaching experience at various levels including coaching a high school D1 State finalist team and 3 years in a row of a top 10 state ranking. He is passionate of the sport of running and loves to see new runners take up the sport! He wants to share a lifetime of running experience to all