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How to Train Your Brain for the Next Big Race

As an athlete, you know that you have to put in time to train your body, build muscle and power, eat the right foods and get enough rest. There's a lot that needs to be done to get ready for a big event like a marathon or a triathlon, but have you ever thought about how to train yourself mentally?

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Think about an Olympian runner about to run the 100-meter dash or a professional basketball player getting ready to shoot the last basket for a win. These athletes do all the right things: train, eat well, get enough sleep, hydrate. But that one extra step these athletes are taking is "visualizing" the basketball going into the net, "feeling" the crowds cheering them on, "smelling" the open air on the track and "seeing" the world record when they cross the finish line.

A 2001 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology discussed factors influencing Olympic performance. This study noted that "all 15 athletes interviewed commented on the importance of some aspect of mental preparation and reported mental preparation as having a positive impact on performance."

How do we start thinking like an Olympian or a professional athlete in our daily lives? Here are three key tips to mental preparation for any athlete:

Tip 1: Use visualization
Think about all the different parts of your race. Where are you going to place yourself in the swim? How are you going to attack the hills on the bike? Will you walk during the water stops? Visualize details on every part of the race. See yourself crossing the finish line. Think about your family, friends and co-workers cheering for you on the sidelines. Start to feel and crave that finish line on a daily basis.

Tip 2: Use positive self-talk
Create positive comments in your head. As athletes, we'll say things like, "I can't," "this hurts," "I'm not good enough" or "I stink." Get that out of your head and start turning the negatives into positives: "I can," "I love the pain," "I am good enough" or "I am rocking this workout."

All athletes will have moments of self-doubt or negative self-talk. When you have those moments, step away from training for a day or a couple of hours, if you can. Taking time away from the athletic world can be one of the best steps for the heart and the mind.

Tip 3: Let go of negative influences
Letting go of negative influences can play a huge role in your life. Has anyone told you that you're crazy for attempting an Ironman? There may be a lot of people who are not supportive of your goals. They may say that they're worried or nervous for you when, in reality, the "negative influencers" are actually worried and nervous for themselves. Why have negativity in your life when it will only bring you down?

Whether you're running a 5K, 10K or triathlon, training can be extremely hard. But it can also be very exciting and satisfying. These tips can help you make your journey a little bit easier as you are working not only the body, but also the brain.


Readers -- Are you training for a race? How do you keep yourself mentally motivated to keep going? What's the hardest part of training -- the physical or mental battle? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Jennifer "Jen" Rulon is a seven-time Ironman Triathlete, a USA Triathlon Level I and CrossFit Coach who likes to "lift things up and put them down." She received her master of science in kinesiology, with an emphasis on exercise science. Jen designed her own strength and conditioning program for endurance athletes called The Strongest Mile. Currently, she is training for Ironman Mont Tremblant and taking her Ironman Triathlon Training to a "Zen" level. You can read more at

Connect with Jen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Greenleaf, Christy, Gould, Daniel & Dieffenbach, Kristin. (2001). Factors Influencing Olympic Performance: Interviews with Atlanta and Nagano US Olympians. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13, 154-184.


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