(Again, I’ve included here the blog entry from my Hypnosis For Running blog, enjoy)
Previously here, I wrote on using dissociation as an evidence based process for enhancing endurance as a runner. Throughout my own research and exploration on how to use the mind to really develop our running ability, I have also found that related to the research on hypnosis and running, there is much on the cognitive strategies used by runners and a fabulous amount of information about the psychological profile of marathon runners and elite runners for long distance running.
I have been reading a fascinating paper entitled “Psychological characterization of the elite distance runner” by Morgan and Pollock (1977) and along with a number of other investigations of a similar ilk, it would seem that elite marathoners in general tend to be introvert – which was initially something I read with sadness because my own psychological profile tends to move in the direction of extroversion. However, this is not universal and several winners of Boston and London marathons have rated as extroverts on the Eysenck Personality Inventory and so there is hope for me yet!
This blog entry is not about exploring personality or psychological traits though, and that is not really what this entire blog is about or aimed at. The reason I mention it at all though is because those introverts do tend to be very well skilled with their own active cognitive strategies that aid them with their running in a wide number of ways, as I showed with the previous entry here on Hypnosis For Running.
Whenever I read Runners World magazine or a running blog I subscribe to, I am often barraged by pieces of research showing that runners listening to music tended to recover quicker or run more efficiently in some recent study, and I listen to music a great deal when running, particularly on my longer runs, it helps me pass the time and I enjoy the absorption in the music – this is dissociation. It is me classically distracting myself from the detail of how I am really feeling, like when you are battling through fatigue or aches at mile 25 at the marathon and using whatever you can to get you through to the end. Music has other ways it helps us, with being uplifting and inspirational and having emotional association that aids us, but it also can distract and aid dissociation.
However, the earlier mentioned study by Morgan (1977) showed that despite the prevalence of such these dissociation strategies were not the main “cognitive strategy” among elite runners. In fact they tended to use an associative strategy.
So these elite marathon runners stated that they actually paid very close attention to their own bodies and especially noticed what happened within their legs and feet as well as monitoring their breathing closely.
They also did keep a note of time, heck these are elite runners, I watch my Garmin a great deal, but these guys are watching it with more interest than I am! However, they generally stated that the pace they adhered to was dictated by how their body felt.
When marathon racing, these elite runners also tended to instruct themselves to relax and keep the muscles loose throughout the race. They tended to be people who dealt with anxiety very well outside of running and though there was much, much more to the research, these are the bits relevant to what I am writing about today.
It is far more common to think of (and assume) runners using dissociative strategies, but these studies all do highlight the fact that runners who excel are mentally actively in some shape or form while running. I hope you realise that and at the very least see the benefits of that.
One such cognitive strategy then, as already suggested here today is that of ‘association’ and this is particularly prevalent with introverted elite distance runners. I suspect that most of you readers are not elite runners, and so we may not have as much awareness of ourselves when running. Those of you that have only been running for a short period of time may not know your own limits or how to spread out your exertions within your longer runs as well as elite runners who rely on such an awareness.
This process today aims to help enhance your ongoing capability awareness when running as well as use an associative cognitive strategy when running to get a good sense of whether to really push on with your pace, or whether to ease back during a long training run, or a race with a specific desired outcome where it is particularly pertinent.
When I write about an associative strategy, I am referring to one whereby you tune in to how you are; how you feel, how you think and how you are generally. This awareness is often considered unhelpful as it reminds us of pains and aches and tiredness, so many tend to favour dissociative strategies such as the one I wrote about in the previous blog entry here. I know people who count, who listen to music, who recall lists, who imagine past and future runs and all sorts of things as means of dissociative strategies.
The study suggests that too much dissociation, especially running through considerable pain using dissociation, can cause injury and cause us to ignore real-life issues and problems.
It is shown in the research that having an associative strategy is what helps many elite runners thrive and we’d be foolish not to learn from them. So simply follow these simple steps and develop your own associative cognitive strategy using self-hypnosis, and you can enhance your long training runs and race more effectively.
Using Self-Hypnosis To Develop Your Own Associative Cognitive Running Strategy:
Get yourself into a comfortable, seated position where you can be receptive, with your arms and legs not touching each other and your feet flat on the floor. Ideally, somewhere that you’ll be undisturbed for the duration of this session, then follow the steps outlined here:
Step One: Induce hypnosis.
You can do so by any means you desire or know of. You can use the process in my self-hypnosis book, use the free audio at this website to practice or have a look at the following articles as and when you need them; they are basic processes to help you simply open the door of your mind:
Once you have induced hypnosis, move on to step two.
Step Two: Imagine being out on a run. It really needs to be a run you regularly go out on, ideally a run that you will be going out on, whether that is a race or a longer training run.
Be thinking that you are in the first half of this run somewhere and no later.
Take a couple of moments and spend them on developing the scene, the colours, the sights and sounds and imagine that each step on the run takes you deeper into hypnosis.
Also, think about the outcome for this run. Do you want to complete it in a certain time, or is it a distance to complete, or is it part of a training programme in which you hope to complete a race, or build endurance or reduce weight, or any other desired outcome. Have that in your mind while engaging in this run in your mind.
Continue running, engaging with yourself on the run rather than the environment and when you are really tuned in to how you are on this run, then move on to the next step.
Step Three: Be mindful and enhance awareness of your body while running.
Notice what sensations you have in various parts of your body. Of course, being a runner, you’ll want to check your feet, your calves, your hamstrings and glutes, as well as your lower back, shoulders, stomach muscles and so on.
Notice your breathing. Is it heavy, is it automatic and gentle? Get a sense of whether you are grasping for air or if it is a comfortable means of breathing. Are you breathing from the tummy or the chest?
All of these things you can notice and be aware of, but don’t try to change them, just notice them and be aware of them. Also don’t try to stop them from changing if they do, just tune in to how you are during this run.
Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Are they comfortable and relaxed, are they quiet, or are they loud, are they stressful and/or doubtful? Get a sense of how they are without changing them.
Finally, get a sense of how you are emotionally, note your mood and how you know you have that mood, note it, watch yourself and really ensure you feel tuned in to exactly how you are in this run.
With all that information, particularly aware of your physiological feelings, use your own cognitions and internal dialogue to actually tell yourself in your mind what you notice and what you are aware of, almost as if you are giving yourself a report.
Once you have completed the full, in depth report of how you are at this stage of your run, and fully advised yourself of how you are, then move on to the next step.
Step Four: Assess your ongoing exertion levels and think about how much further you have to go in this run.
Using your internal dialogue and your own cognitions, now make an assessment of how this run is going based upon how you are feeling physically, psychologically and emotionally. Note how much further you have to go, how you are feeling and what it is going to take to achieve that distance and how fast you’ll be capable of completing that in (taking into account how you feel at this moment).
Report back to yourself on your thoughts and feelings about this run and the remainder of the run.
In accordance with your desired outcome for this run, whether it is a training run, or a race, start to adjust your pace in line with the way your body feels.
Use your own internal dialogue and just tell yourself your assessment of the run, then adjust your pace accordingly to ensure you complete the run in the way that is best for you and your desired outcomes, but not necessarily forcing the desired outcome at all costs, just getting as close to it as you possibly can, again, according to your assessment of yourself.
Once you have completed your assessment and delivered it with dialogue to yourself in your mind, then move on to the next step.
Step Five: Adjust your pace and exertion levels in accordance with your report. Adjust your thoughts, mood, emotions and physical exertion levels in whatever ways you know of in accordance with your informed report that you delivered to yourself.
Continue with your run, and then repeat steps three and four (as well as the first part of this step) at a latter stage of the same run.
Tell yourself that each time you practice this within a self-hypnosis session, the better you become at doing it within your actual runs and that you do it within your actual runs with more and more ease and fluency.
Then you can move on to the final step.
Step Six: Exit hypnosis. Take a couple of deeper breaths, wiggle your fingers and toes, open your eyes and think about making plans or taking action to get out on that very run you just imagined.
Practice this self-hypnosis session a few times and then start to apply the associative strategy during your own longer runs and races. When out on your run, you monitor, assess and adjust according to your rehearsed processes.
Remember though, the mental rehearsal is to practice the cognitive strategy and assessment process, not to mentally rehearse the run itself. Your runs will not be (and should not be) dictated by this particular process.
You’ll probably want to run through the process more than twice during your runs; I tend to have it ongoing and do it formally 5-10 times during a 20 mile run or a marathon, however, the fluency is such that I can do it fairly quickly more often if I need to.
Many elite marathon runners within the research have the dissociative strategy as part of their ongoing cognitions throughout a marathon; they continually assess and adjust in just seconds of time.
It is certainly something you can do within a race or long run as well as your dissociative strategies, but just make sure you do not get so dissociated that you never tune in and get the benefits of the associative process if you want to adopt the same sort of processes of an elite runner.
Enjoy that, I’ll be back soon.
Morgan, W. P. and Pollock, M. L. (1977) Psychological characterization of the elite distance runner. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 301: 382-403.
Morgan, W. P., O’Connor, P. J., Ellickson, K. A. and Bradley, P. W. (1988) Personality structure, mood states and performance in elite male distance runners. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 19: 247-263
Morgan, W. P., O’Connor, P. J., Sprling, B. P. and Pate, R. R. (1987) Psychological characterization of the elite female distance runner. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 8: 124-131