Sport Psychology and Distance Running and Walking

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“Pizza and Beer, Pizza and Beer”. Not exactly what I expected but these three words were what one of my students came up with when I asked my Eugene Marathon ChiRunning/ChiWalking training group to give me an example of a Positive Affirmation. Well, I suppose for him, it was a positive and playful thought that might help in his distance running challenge. The more common responses, however, were such clear affirmations as “I can and I will” or “I run with ease and speed”, self-messages that encourage the individual and remind him or her of some feature or form that is positive for them. All of the affirmations have in common that they draw upon one’s  mental side to assist the physical side in performance and they are consistent with psychological theory drawn from the field of Sport Psychology.

Another Sport Psych technique that I typically include in my distance running training programs is Imagery. To get the flavor of Imagery, try the following. “Close your eyes and imagine that you are running (or walking) in an area that you love, perhaps a trail or path that is one of your favorites, and see yourself flowing with ease and joy, moving along effortlessly, in your own perfect form..”  Take a moment and enjoy this Imagery. What did you come up with? How was it for you?

Sometimes, I will modify the directions to have participants imagine that they are running like an animal (of their choice) or I might have them see themselves finishing a race that they have done or will be doing. If the latter, the technique becomes more one of Mental Rehearsal, a technique often seen on TV as we watch elite athletes, e.g. skiers and skaters,  doing their pre-event preparations.

As a Sport Psychologist, I have a particular interest in the application of Psychology to distance running and walking and I have found that techniques such as those described do make a difference in my students’ experience and performance in their training and in the actual running or walking event that they undertake. I receive  consistent feedback that they can affect what goes on physically by using these simple psychological tools.  Comments at the  Follow-Up Celebration after the Eugene Marathon confirmed this exciting outcome. Completing their long distance event, especially during any tough periods, became much more a positive challenge than a matter of just hanging on and persisting. They found that their mental side was very helpful in anticipating and handling the physical challenges that naturally come with such running or walking activities.

One especially rewarding aspects of Sport Psychology techniques is that they are consistent with the underlying assumptions and theory of ChiRunning and ChiWalking, namely that the mind and the body are designed to be a unified whole, working together as one.  I find that including  techniques like those described above is straight forward and easy to do because I have already taught the students about form focusing, self-monitoring and many other key ingredients of ChiRunning/ChiWalking. Try them yourself and see if you agree. In other words: “You can and you will!” 


Posted in Technique

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