Adapting to a Growth Mindset For Runners

Overcoming nerves and anxiety on race day will propel you to greater heights

Fostering a growth mindset for distance runners
Fostering a growth mindset for distance runners

Have you ever doubted yourself, especially on race day?

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m not prepared enough.”

“I should have done better with my training.”

“I don’t belong.”

We have all been to this dark place at some point or another. Unfortunately, more often than not, a lot of runners – even at the highest level – think or feel this way. We constantly check in to see if we actually do really belong.

Hands up if you’ve heard this one before:

Yesterday was a crappy run and most of it was my poor attitude.  I feel like I’m exerting myself, but I look at the pace and see how slow I am, then I get discouraged.  How do I push myself through a funk during a long run and what gets athletes into that competitive mode of pushing themselves to the limit?  I guess I don’t want to just improve my pace – but I would like to see if I can push myself outside my comfort zone.  Maybe that is my biggest barrier – the comfort zone.

A Growth Mindset for Distance Runners
A Growth Mindset for Distance Runners

I have been doing a bit of research into growth mindset vs fixed mindset for the classroom, but I’ll tell you what: it relates pretty closely to the distance runner psyche. Let me break down what the two are and how they relate to running.


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Growth Mindset

In a growth mindset, it’s believed that skills can be built, learned or practised.  With this type of mindset, it’s understood that abilities can be developed.  When you believe you can grow and get better, you might be more willing to take risks and challenge a problem.

Runners with a growth mindset will look at a tough workout or a long run as a challenge; an opportunity to reach their potential and become stronger, faster, more adept at building new skills. Within a growth mindset, a runner can see the effort put forth improves ability, we see a chance for a challenge, we are ok with a setback and we can take criticism to improve.

Growth Mindset: Getting the Most out of Your Running
Growth Mindset: Getting the Most out of Your Running

Fixed Mindset

With a fixed mindset, comparison becomes paralyzing. This mindset often results in emotional athletes that continually compare themselves to others. This results in fearful, rigid athletes that limit their potential. Overthinking leads to inactivity.  When we are faced with a difficult task or idea, we shut down and find a different path to take.

If we don’t think we have the ability to accomplish something – whether it’s to run a fast mile or complete a marathon, then we aren’t likely to even attempt it, let alone become proficient at that skill. This mindset often results in emotional athletes that continually compare themselves to others. This results in fearful, rigid athletes that limit their potential.


Choosing Growth over Fixed

A challenge can either motivate us to work harder and smarter at accomplishing the task or it can scare us and create unnecessary stress and pressure. If we believe we can do something, accomplish something, perform well at something, chances are, we’ll be willing to work hard toward that goal.

Growth Mindset: the key to improving your running potential
Growth Mindset: the key to improving your running potential

Your view of yourself can determine everything. A growth mindset will see a challenge as an opportunity, where a fixed mindset will see the challenge as an obstacle. With a growth mindset, it’s understood that our abilities can be developed.  When you believe you can grow and get better, you might be more willing to take risks and challenge a problem.

Some people realize the value of challenging themselves, they want to put in the effort to learn and grow, a great example of this is The Buffett Formula. Others, however, would rather avoid the effort feeling like it doesn’t matter. A challenge can either motivate us to work harder and smarter at accomplishing the task or it can scare us and create unnecessary stress and pressure.


Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram
Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram

Growth Mindset for Runners

  • Practice starting slow – in runs and in training cycles – when in doubt, especially early on, take it easy.
  • Focus on what you can that will help you become a better runner.
  • Be ok with setbacks – in running, there will be plenty of them.
  • Take criticism from peers/coaches/experienced runners and use it to get better.
  • Leave the really fast running for race day only.
  • Use perceived effort to dictate training intensities. This can also be done by not relying on your GPS watch for data.

Summary

If you can convince your mind to do what you want your body to do, you have that much better of a chance of succeeding. Likewise, if your mind says “no”, your body will follow (and fail you).

By adapting and adjusting to the challenges, obstacles, criticism, and the success of others, YOU can have a growth mindset and achieve your goals.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.


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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!


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8 thoughts on “Adapting to a Growth Mindset For Runners

  1. deborahbrooks14 June 19, 2019 — 5:28 PM

    I can certainly catch myself having that negative mindset when a run is not going my way. Interesting way of looking at things!

    Like

  2. I constantly catch myself having negative thoughts, especially during a race. I’m trying very much to be more in the moment and more positive when it comes to running.

    Like

  3. Kim at Running on the Fly June 19, 2019 — 8:17 PM

    I had to employ a lot of the growth mindset principles two years ago, when I was sidelined for three months (after surgery). I couldn’t run, but I could walk…and I walked a lot. In turn, a lot of different muscles were strengthened in my legs, and I have since rallied back with some of my fastest finish times in recent years. Had I just sat it out, in an extensive pity party, I wouldn’t have maintained my endurance nor grown as a runner.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This gives me a lot of food for thought. A lot. I definitely have a ton of anxiety about races, and I have struggled with getting over it. I’m going to try focusing on the growth mindset a little more and see if that helps.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post! My run coach and I talk a lot about mindset and I’ve been working on trying to improve my mindset on race day.

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  6. The mind is so, so powerful. I’m glad you have this conversation with your coach. 👊🏼

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  7. Absolutely! The mind is very powerful. I have had my share of setbacks and the down time can be bad if you let it. I’m glad you’ve rallied and come back stronger!

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  8. Races are just an extension of a run. I hope you can find some relief on race day; I’d hate for you to have anxiety over something that is supposed to be enjoyable and fun!

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