It's A Head Thing!

Running in mind


- I'm a runner. Why did I have such trouble in that Ironman 70.3?

- I was running well for about 12 miles. Then the wheels came off.

- I should have done more bricks!

Sound familiar?

Running after a long bike ride is a big "ask." We've already spent multiple hours working our bodies hard. And now we have to summon the energy and mental courage to cover many miles by foot. But, as my husband is fond of reminding me: You asked for this. So hadn't we better find a way to handle this triathlon run – a way that doesn't leave us questioning what went wrong?

The simple, and most obvious, answer is that if we need to improve the run, we simply need to practice it more. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Areas such as distance, effort and mental strength training have to be considered. But the biggest factor in a great or a disappointing run is:


The  mental component

Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're always right – Henry Ford

Mental strength begins with the firm belief that you can do it. "It" may mean pushing through to the next level, working outside your comfort zone, staying uncomfortable for sustained periods, holding your form when fatigue is pulling it apart, etc. Being mentally strong is your head keeping you going when your body is screaming for mercy and is ready to give up – being unwilling to back down until the job is done.

Fortunately, we can incorporate mental training in most of our run training sessions.


Interval Training

Interval training is designed to take you to your limit/ fully recover/ do it again, and again, and again.

Some runners are a bit hesitant to push that hard for good reason – it hurts! But the physical benefits have been well documented and when you walk away from this workout knowing that you were successful in pushing your body beyond what you thought possible, you're mentally stronger - a tougher, more confident athlete.


Tempo Run

A tempo run is one which includes somewhere between 10 and 45 minutes of running at or near race pace. It's going to be uncomfortable but the objective is to help you get comfortable with the stress of race day and to understand that you are able to persist while being that uncomfortable.

I like to do this kind of work on a course where I've done it previously. The benefit is two-fold:

  1. I can compare how well I handle the discomfort verses previous workouts
  2. I can practice the technique of constantly reminding myself that I've done this before and I can do it again – Just keep pushing!


Transition Run

A transition run is a short (10-30 minute) run off a bike ride, the purpose of which is simply to practice getting into the running rhythm quickly. I like to think of it as making the mental switch to becoming a runner after all those hours of being a biker.

Allow yourself a very few minutes to "get your legs" as you find your rhythm, and then hold that  pace. A t-run is short, so the pace can be quicker than you'll run in your race. Take periodic mental checks to make sure you're looking like a runner, not like a biker who rode for a bike PR and forgot about that pesky little run afterwards.


The Brick

The brick is a longer run (:45 – 1:30) off the bike. There are some who believe that any run off the bike of over one hour is counterproductive because it takes too much from you and can affect your upcoming training. Others believe that an athlete needs the confidence boost of running longer as they'll need to on race day. I believe it's a decision based on the individual.

Regardless of the distance of the brick run, it should be at a comfortable, sustainable pace. A great benefit of this long brick run is to teach your body and mind to continue to run strong when fatigue starts gnawing away at you. At that point, it takes a strong, confident mind to keep moving forward holding your pace. In an Ironman run, you don't need to run fast - you need to keep moving forward, running at your own steady pace when others slow down or start walking. Constant movement forward will get you to the finish long before many others.


Long Run

The long run is familiar territory to all runners. We tend to think of it as training to be on our feet for a long period of time. But to get the most out of your run, you need to have your head engaged from start to finish and that's where the mental strength training happens.

  • Do negative split runs (i.e. 16 miles as 2 x 8 miles or 4 x 4 miles). To manage your pace when your goal is a negative split requires constant focus. You must be prepared to run conservatively in the early miles, controlling yourself when it feels too easy. You must manage your expenditure of energy throughout and, towards the end, you must remain committed to the goal and hold onto it for dear life – just as you want to do on race day.
  • Designate certain miles throughout the run where you'll increase your speed. Always make the last mile your fastest.
  • Use terrain to your training advantage. Include hills on your course. Use the up hills to get strong (focus on good form) and the down hills to gain some time while still getting some recovery. Your mind has to be engaged and working for you to get the most out of hills in a long run.
  • Always have a goal  for the long run (i.e. average pace, set of hills, TT mile included, consistent pace, fast last mile, etc). Never, ever, ever give up on that goal, regardless of how easy it would be to do so.

Champions are made when no one is looking – (Unknown)


Be strong – in body and mind – and go have the best race of your life!

Good luck