The Psychology of Running: What is it and how it can help you

The Psychology of Running: What is it and how it can help you

How much of running performance is physical and how much is mental? While this is a nearly impossible question to answer, we runners understand that both physiological and psychological skills impact performance. From a physiological standpoint, we runners know what needs to be done to achieve excellence. We log our miles, sleep well, eat right, ice down after workouts, do core work, and on and on. When runners underachieve, coaches often discuss physical components of training (log more miles, improve leg speed, avoid overtraining, etc.) as a means to improvement. In other words, most athletes do the important physical things that are necessary to be successful. And if athletes fail to reach their goals, their coaches or other advisors almost always discuss changing physical training as a means to improve performance. But reaching the highest levels in the sport of distance running takes more than excellent physical training.

The mental side of running may be equally important, but it is rarely discussed. Yet those athletes at the top of track world realize the impact that sports psychology may have on their performances. Kara Goucher, for example, partly attributes the revitalization of her career to work with a sports psychologist who specifically helped Goucher foster a belief in herself (Powers, 2009). Alan Webb also reportedly made the training move from Reston, Virginia to Portland to be closer to the sports psychologist he works with (Binder, 2009). Webb, Goucher, and other elite athletes most certainly do the optimum physical training, but they also realize that more than this is required for peak performance.

What do I mean by "the mental side of running"? Sport psychology is generally defined as "the scientific study of human behavior in sport as well as the practical application of that knowledge" (Gill, 2008, pg 7). I more specifically plan to focus on the cognitive states that impact performance. Topics that I will cover during this bi-monthly series include the flow state, association versus dissociation, goal setting, and optimal arousal for peak performance. I certainly hope that many of the Flotrack users understand the impact of psychology on performance. Yet sports psychology involves more than just positive thinking. If you are like many runners, your coaches and advisors do not openly discuss the impact of the mental game on performance. Over the next several months, I hope to shed more light on these topics so that you may improve your own mental games.


Binder, D. (2009, August 7). Alan Webb coming to Portland to work with Alberto Salazar and 'partner' Darren Treasure. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from

Gill, D.L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise(3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Powers, J. (2009, April 17). The lure of adding to Boston's lore attracts Goucher. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from

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