Brain Training-Running Psychology

What are the first 5 things that come to mind when you think of race training? Long runs, tempo runs, speed and hill intervals, strength training, and proper nutrition…Preparing our bodies to run a race is a no brainer. Most runners would also agree that the mind can determine how successful you are on race day, but they do not know how to train it. The brain is a very complicated and powerful part of our body that can negatively or positively affect our performance.

The Pixar movie “Inside Out” provided a fun picture of what goes on inside our brains. Like Joy trying to keep Sadness away on the first day of school, there are thoughts and feelings that we should keep in a small circle deep in our minds while running. Allowing anxiety, fear, dwelling on fatigue, and decreased confidence to creep in is a surefire way to slow you down. How do we train our brain to filter thoughts? Many may say that the music they listen to has a huge affect on how fatigued they feel during a run. I personally had to delete “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” (Drowning Pool), “I Need A Doctor” (Eminem, Dr. Dre), and an oldie but goody “Lean On Me” (Bill Withers) from my running playlists.

What may come as a surprise to runners is that continuously checking your watch and monitoring rate of perceived exertion (RPE) can decrease pace. Recent research published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that runners actually ran 10% slower and felt like they were working harder when they could visually monitor their pace and had increased internal focus. Improving your external focus and concentration on running technique to improve efficiency will make you run faster with a lower perceived effort. Training using the following tips can help you use your brain to run faster!

  • Focus on the skill of running and running most efficiently.
  • Check the watch and “feelings” only at each 1 mile lap.
  • Train with friends & race in a pack.

Altering Pace Control and Pace Regulation: Attentional Focus Effects during Running. Noel E. Brick, Mark J. Campbell, Richard S. Metcalfe, Jacqueline L. Mair, Tadhg E. MacIntyre Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 December 15 Published online 2015 December 15. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000843


Early Season Troubleshooting

The birds are chirping, the temps are rising and the running season is off to a start! The inaugural race, the 2016 Glass City Marathon, is quickly approaching. How are you feeling about your training? There are a couple problems that runners may face around this early season stage that can lead to panicking and frustration. Below are a couple easy tips on how to deal with some of those potential issues.

  1. “I cannot go the distance.”
  • Slow it down. What pace are you setting for your long runs? Your greatest distance run for the week should be your slowest. Pace yourself 45 seconds to 1 minute per mile slower than your race pace goal or stay in heart rate zone 2.
  • Get the right fuel. See “Fueling the Endurance Machine” by Ryan Leone, MEd, MFN, RD.
  • Cross Train. Incorporate at least one long and slow cross training day per week. This allows you to build cardiovascular and muscular endurance without adding extra running mileage to your schedule.
  1. “I cannot get my speed up.”
  •  Hills and speed intervals. Use one or two of your lower distance runs to incorporate hills and speed intervals.
  • Become more efficient. Hone your running skills so you don’t waste energy with excessive vertical movement.
  • Strength Train. In season strength training is recommended 2 days per week.
  1. “I hurt.”
  • Allow yourself to recover. Are you giving yourself 1 day off or appropriately actively resting?
  • Check your cadence. Running significantly less than 180 steps per minute indicates that there are likely several factors that are linked to running injuries present. Increasing your cadence to around 180 steps per minute can significantly reduce those factors and pain with running. See “The Foot Strike Debate: Does it Matter?”
  • Check your training. Are you appropriately running long runs and only doing 1-2 days per week of speed or hill intervals?
  • Get help. If you are hurting enough during runs that it alters your gait OR you are hurting when you are not running (at rest or with normal daily activities), STOP. Those are red flags that indicate you should get medical advice. You can come directly to see a physical therapist. Call 419-318-7019 or go to receive specialized care and return to running ASAP!

*A lot of this content will be described in greater detail in upcoming blog posts. Follow the Elite PT Facebook page to stay current when new blogs are posted!

Fueling the Endurance Machine

Properly fueling your endurance training and racing is a bit of an art form. Too little and your performance will suffer while too much can pack on a few unwanted pounds. How much fuel you need depends on where you’re at in your training. Periods of light training don’t require the same nutritional investment as periods of heavy training. The chart below provides a rough estimate of the targets for calories, carbohydrates, and protein during different periods of training:


Calories Carbohydrate Protein
Male Female
Light 17 Cal/lb 16 Cal/lb 2 g/lb 0.5 g/lb
Moderate 19 Cal/lb 17 Cal/lb 3 g/lb 0.6 g/lb
Heavy 23 Cal/lb 20 Cal/lb 4 g/lb 0.7 g/lb


There are many food tracking smart phone or web-based apps that will make calculating what you eat easier. They will also provide nutritional targets, but be careful because they are not designed for endurance athletes. Also, there is no need to log everyday. When your training changes, log a few days to get an idea of how much you’re eating and revisit as often as you’d like.


When determining your needs, keep these things in mind:

  • These are recommendations, not hard and fast rules. You may venture outside these ranges and that’s OK.
  • Eating for weight loss and performance are two different goals. Understand that if intentionally trying to lose weight, your performance will take a hit.
  • Monitoring your weight and performance is a great way to find out if you’re fueling correctly. You’ll want to maintain your weight during your training. Weigh yourself once a week at the same time of day.