Getting into the mental state, referred to as "the zone," where running seems effortless and the mind can seemingly transcend pain, is a highly sought-after objective of many athletes. The zone is elusive because it involves the integration of the conscious and unconscious elements of movement. Once you become conscious of the movement, you are no longer in the zone. There are, however, mental exercises that can be taken to improve the mind-body connection that will help a runner enter the zone.
Conduct a pre-run ritual in a quiet space 30 minutes before your run. Steven Ungerleider, author of "Mental Training for Peak Performance," refers to this as the Perfect Timing and Energy Zone. During this time, practice relaxed breathing while visualizing the course and imagine finishing the run strong and refreshed. Double-check the knots in your shoelaces and that you have everything you need for the run. You want to free mind of any clutter. A pre-race ritual sets the foundation that will help you enter the zone during the run.
Start the run and focus on a rhythm or cadence. Listen to the sound of your feet on the pavement or trail and turn it into music in your mind. Each foot strike is the beat of a drum.
Listen to your breath and concentrate on each inhalation and exhalation. Hear how it relates to the rhythm your feet are making.
Shift the focus to your breathing while moving the sound of your feet to the background. Allow your mind to relax and sink in to the sensation of the breath. You must achieve a state of unconscious awareness and attempt to stay there without consciously trying to do so. If you try to force yourself to be in the zone you will never achieve that state of mind-body connection. The concept is similar to making yourself go to sleep. The harder you try to think yourself to sleep, the more awake you become.
- "Mental Training for Peak Performance"; Steven Ungerleider; 2005
- "The Winter Athlete"; Steve Ilg; 1999