Mental Skills Spotlight: How Adam Became Mentally Strong

Runners are always focused on training their bodies with long runs, workouts, and strength training. But why don’t we formally train our minds and develop our mental skills?


Building mental skills and prioritizing our mindset may sound out there to some but they’re an essential part of preparing for a peak performance. While being fit and fast will always work in your favor, training your brain can make the difference in your ability to succeed.

Today I want to share the story of Adam, a runner that I’ve been coaching for almost a year. We’ve been working together to build his physical and mental skills.

Adam exemplifies how mental fitness can help runners of all levels improve. He came to running later in life at the age of 45 and faced a learning curve while he adapted to the mental and physical challenges of a new sport.

He told me:

I used to struggle with focus during long runs and my biggest struggle was tempo runs.

I also have anxiety before races and when the anxiety becomes crippling, it becomes a problem.

Today, I want to share how Adam has overcome his mental struggles and built his confidence, mental toughness, and lowered his anxiety.

Mental Skills Flow From Physical Skills

Adams Mental Skills

Adam using his confidence to race fast

Even though Adam didn’t have a long running history, he quickly learned the importance of balancing mental and physical training. These skills are constantly intertwined.

While there are some mental skills that can be developed away from running (such as visualizing an upcoming race), many are learned from a thorough, progressive training plan that gives you opportunities to push yourself safely and appropriately.

Adam learned this as his workouts progressed over time. They got more and more challenging but also gave him more confidence as he pushed through new mental hurdles to complete them. Progressive workouts trained his mind and body and helped boost his mental toughness on race day.

That’s because mental toughness is a learned skill through experience (you don’t learn it from a textbook). Adam understood that you must step out of your comfort zone and challenge your preconceived notions of what you’re capable of achieving.

He told me:

You can’t ask someone to get off a couch and race a marathon with sheer mental toughness. Mental toughness comes with having trained your mind just like one trains the body.

You have been successful in training my body to do things that I didn’t think I could and that has definitely built mental toughness.

Repeated exposure to challenge was instrumental in giving Adam the confidence to push his body and accomplish more of his goals.

But what about race-day anxiety?

Confidence Reduces Anxiety

If you get nervous before a race or hard workout, congratulations! You are a human being.

Anxiety is a normal human response to a new or challenging situation. If you’re not nervous, the race probably doesn’t matter enough. Even elite runners get anxious prior to a race, but they know how to channel that anxiety into a productive effort.

Like many of us, Adam admits to being nervous prior to races. Despite that, he has learned how to draw confidence from his training so that a normal amount of nervousness doesn’t become crippling anxiety:

Yes, I do have anxiety before races. However, my confidence level has gone up significantly because I have been able to push myself in training and I am able to bank on that both before and during a race.

Pushing yourself during training provides confidence and that “bank” of experience to draw from in a race situation.

And it’s not just workouts. Adam has improved his mental focus during his long runs as well:

I used to struggle with focus during long runs. The way you built the confidence in me is remarkable. Now a long run to me is just another run and I tackle it with confidence.

You taught me that it’s OK to have a failed run and just pick up where I left the next week. The results have been surprising. I feel like a different runner. A long run is no longer the beast that it used to be. I just go about it normally.

Sometimes, that might lead to failure. A short term “failure” might mean walking during a long run, or not hitting the pace you were hoping for in your tempo run or intervals.

These are not failures, however; they are better appreciated as learning experiences!

Mindset training helps you learn how to turn these minor setbacks into longer-term successes. Adam has learned the mental skills to embrace failure as part of the training process.

A coach can be a huge asset to help you look at your failure objectively. They can ask the tough questions or provide perspective that you didn’t consider:

  • What needs to happen to produce a different outcome?
  • Were outside factors negatively affecting your performance (weather, training context, altitude, stress, etc.)?
  • Did you succeed at part of the workout and we can consider this a partial success?

Over time, setbacks will always help you learn as long as you find a way to use them constructively.

What Happens When You Focus on Mental Skills

Actively working on your mental skills allows you to grow into a more robust runner. Training or race setbacks are always difficult – but they can be reframed and used to propel your progress.

For Adam, the first realization that he was approaching running differently was that he finally “felt like a runner!” Often, new runners struggle with this sense of inclusion.

Working with a coach helped Adam change his perspective and feel more confident in his abilities. He’s benefited in so many ways:

  • Workouts became something to look forward to, rather than something he might fail at
  • He’s much more focused during long runs and they’re no longer “the beast” they used to be
  • Failed runs happen – just pick up where you left off and move on
  • He no longer worries about falling apart in a race (he trusts his training and gets confidence from workouts)

Adam exemplifies how runners can gain confidence through physical training and performance psychology. He’s learned to handle workouts he never thought possible and has translated that confidence to racing.

He explains it best:

Believe in your training. Believe in your coach. It is going to hurt no matter how much you train but the hurt becomes a learned experience and the success of completing a tough workout will translate into the high of a great finish!

Over time, Adam has developed the mental skills necessary to become a “mentally fit” runner:

Now my question for you:

Would you want to work together to increase your mental skills and become more mentally tough, focused, confident, and with less anxiety?

I’m putting together something special for a small group of runners that I’ll be announcing next week. I’m thrilled with how it’s coming together – and it’s almost ready for you.

I can’t wait to share it with some of you… but first, I want to hear from you.

What is the #1 mental skill that you would like to work on? How would it help your running?

Leave your comment below and I’ll be in touch soon with more details!

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Performance Psychology for Runners with Dr. Justin Ross

Performance psychology for runners promises to turbocharge your training so you’re able to get the most out of your body on race day. But how does this field of psych relate to endurance running?

performance psychology for runners

Looking back over my running career, it’s clear that I’ve always had an obsession with improvement. I just like getting better.

When weekly mileage steadily increases and new monthly mileage records are reached, I’m a happy runner.

Give me a PR – any PR! – and you’ve officially made my month.

And this drive to improve has also bled into other areas of my life:

  • Reading is practically a competitive sport for me now
  • I love seeing steady gains in my retirement account over time
  • My love for plants is similar to my love for mileage: more is usually better!

So it might actually come as a surprise that I didn’t train my mind for the first eight years of my running career in any systematic way.

Despite the incredible promise of mental training to boost confidence, grit, and focus, I completely ignored it.

That is… until I needed to sharpen my mental skills.

And then I took a personal crash course into visualization and found, to my great surprise, that it actually worked!

Frankly, even the amateur visualization that I performed worked better than I had hoped because I accomplished a lot of goals in one single race (I tell the story here).

But what if I took it more seriously?

What if we approached performance psychology with as much vigor as we approached our physical training?

What is Performance Psychology?

jason performance psychology

Mentally tough? Or is it just really sunny in Colorado?

I strongly believe that the next big avenue for improvement will come from training our brain. And without working on our mental fitness, we’re leaving a lot of potential on the track.

Which leads us to the topic of performance psychology.

Performance psych is a sexy term that’s defined by the American Psychological Association as:

This subfield of psychology focuses on identifying and applying psychological principles that facilitate peak sport performance, enhance physical ability and achieve optimal human performance.

You had me at “achieve optimal human performance...”

Most runners get excited by terms like this. It’s why we all love books like Peak Performance, Endure, and Good to Go.

And the promise is exciting: runners who master these skills have the tools to overcome mental obstacles that often sideline our training or make us race slower.

A few examples:

  • Pre-race anxiety causes you to get so nervous that you can’t eat… a poor fueling situation for any endurance runner
  • A lack of confidence has you starting races too slow… and without aggressive pacing, personal bests get more and more difficult
  • Most races have you slowing down over the final miles… without the mental toughness to grit through the fatigue
  • Low motivation causes inconsistent training… so it’s never possible to get close to your potential

These problems happen to most runners at some point. They’re common, expected psychological problems that come with distance running.

But with our new focus on mastering our mindset, I want to ensure you have the tools and mental models to always be in control of your psychology.

So I invited a health and performance psychology expert onto the podcast to explain these models, tools, and skills to the Strength Running community.

Dr. Justin Ross on Performance Psychology for Runners

Dr. Ross is a clinical psychologist, 2:57 marathoner, triathlete, and cofounder of Mind Body Health, an integrative health psychology and counseling center in Denver, Colorado.

His areas of expertise include:

  • Mitigating anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Managing the psychological impact of injury
  • Developing high performing athletes
  • Mindfulness and pain management

He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, performance psychology, and mindfulness training to help athletes improve their inner self-talk and develop the mental skills to lead more productive and successful athletic lives.

Justin joins us on the podcast to discuss a wide variety of issues:

  • The most important psychological skills for endurance runners
  • How to teach performance psychology for runners
  • How mental fitness skills impact the rest of our life
  • Reinforcing habits through mental training
  • And more…

Every runner has struggled with the mental side of the sport: doubts, despair, boredom, anxiety, lack of confidence, and no motivation.

Just this week, you’ve been sharing problems that nearly any runner can relate to. Just look:

“I would be interested in learning strategies to deal with that inner voice that starts to talk at about 80km of a 100k- the one that tells you to stop, reminds you how nice it would be to just sit at the next aid station and DNF, that this is crazy, why do you want to keep going….” – Becky

“Training at a high level for a long time frame is HARD! Mentally, it crushed me about 8-10 weeks from my big race. I got up one morning, and just couldn’t do it. Physically I was tired, but mentally I just couldn’t make myself go do that HARD set of intervals. I quit the interval workout and just went for an easy run, but mentally I felt like a total failure.” – Leanne

“If I do a speed workout and get in oxygen debt I immediately, unconsciously slow down. I want to fight it but my body does the opposite. My thoughts are so uncontrolled when I’m in oxygen debt… Would love to hear a talk on this.” – Seth

Dr. Justin Ross is here to help us conquer that inner critic, use performance psychology to stay motivated, and get in control of our mindset.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

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There is no sponsor for this episode of the podcast. Instead, please share this episode with a friend or your running group!

Our goal at Strength Running is to help you improve, year after year, and realize your running potential. By doing that, we’ll elevate the sport to new heights.

Thank you for helping us reach new runners and sharing our message of smart training, strength, and mental toughness!

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2020: The Year of Mastering Your Mindset

Happy 2020! Welcome to the Year of Mastering Your Mindset – when we focus on our mental fitness and develop the confidence, focus, and mental toughness to reach our biggest running goals.

Mental Fitness

Before we explore our new theme for 2020 all about mental fitness, I want to thank all of you for making 2019 such a success!

Even though we missed a formal theme last year, it was a busy 12 months… There were so many new developments last year that are helping us push forward and reach new milestones together.

The Strength Running community continues to grow and our message of smart training, strength, and hard work is being shared far and wide.

Last year, the Strength Running Podcast reached 1 million downloads! And as of today, we’re quickly approaching 2 million. These numbers blow my mind – and I have you to thank.

Every review in Apple Music, every share with your running friends, and every time you support our sponsors helps the show grow. And if the podcast continues to grow, then I’ll continue to produce new episodes.

Our YouTube channel also reached 15k subscribers… and then 20k… and then 25k! I’m glad our video lessons and demonstrations are resonating; I base many of the content ideas directly on your questions so feel free to search the Archives. You might just find a video that is all about you.

This was also a year where I did a fair amount of speaking. I…

  • Delivered an injury prevention presentation at the Rocky Mountain Trail Camp
  • Spoke on a coaching panel at the US Trail Running conference about strength training for runners
  • Delivered a presentation to Budweiser on peak performance (corporate employees can learn a lot from runners!)
  • Moderated a discussion between elite ultra runners about performance and recovery in Boulder, CO

These experiences reinforced my love for running but perhaps more importantly, my love for runners.

This community is so strong and welcoming that I wouldn’t know where I would be without it. Running has been such an integral part of my life for so long and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

New Resources for Runners

As our community has grown, I’ve also been hard at work creating new resources to help you improve.

Last year, I debuted Simply Strong, our streamlined strength program for runners in a hurry. A simpler, less complex version of High Performance Lifting, it helps runners who might not have the time or inclination for more comprehensive weightlifting workouts.

And it dovetails perfectly with our “Year of Strength” for 2018!

We also saw Running Smarter, Running Stronger launched in partnership with XPollination Studios. This is a feature film length video course about running fundamentals, smart training, and staying healthy.

Filmed in gorgeous Colorado, it features elite runner Maggie Callahan and some of the most beautiful b-roll footage I’ve ever seen.

Next, we updated Finish Strong, our fueling program. It now has more fueling examples, Q&A, interviews, and discount codes. The goal? To help you appropriately fuel for any type of workout, long run, or race.

Most importantly, these resources are helping you improve! I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t helping to elevate your performances.

Here’s just a sample of the progress the Strength Running community has experienced:

These major case studies are just the tip of the iceberg. Notes from runners around the world land in my inbox on a near daily basis. And I couldn’t be more excited about your progress:

“I wanted to share some exciting news and it’s thanks to your program. Today I finished my first half marathon. I finished feeling strong and not once during the entire race did I ever feel like I was not going to be able to do it. I am 44 years old, a relatively new runner with only one 5k to my credit, and had knee reconstruction within the past 4 years. No matter what program I used before, I always ended up with a pulled calf muscle, IT band soreness, or just unable to see noticeable gains.

Although at the start of the race, the director announced that no one should expect to PR with the weather, I can say I did. Thank you for putting years of your experience together in such an easy to follow format and making it available to anyone who has the desire to run.” – Karen

“The program was really enjoyable and I learned a lot! I came out injury-free and pretty much free from any little twitches or pains that I’ve gotten before so that was also a huge plus.

I finished my race yesterday with a 3:14:14 – and considering my “pie in the sky” goal was 3:20 – I’m absolutely thrilled. 16 minute PR! Thank you so much for your guidance! I feel really lucky to have a healthy body with the ability to do something like this. Cheers to many more miles!!!” – Nurrie

“18 months ago, I approached you with what I thought was an outrageous goal: to get my post-two-kids body into good enough shape to crack the 4:00 barrier in the marathon.

I got two PR Race Plans, followed them to the letter through 3 training cycles. And finally, Saturday, the big pay-off: 3:57:28! That time was actually good enough to win my age group! It was an amazing race, I felt so strong throughout, I negative-split the race, and my fastest mile was actually mile 26, at 8:35. I couldn’t believe it!

I can’t thank you enough for helping me with these plans, and with all the other content you put out to support the runners you coach. Every podcast and every blog post has a little gem in it that I can pick up and incorporate into my preparation.” – Dena

But we’re not done yet.

2020: The Year We Focus on Mental Fitness

Mental Fitness Training

This year, we’re focusing on the one muscle that truly matters: our brain.

It’s curious that in a sport like running – that so demands tenacity and mental toughness – runners so rarely work on their mental fitness.

Just think back to your last race that didn’t go so well. Did you make a deal with yourself to settle for a subpar race?

Maybe you…

  • Traded your “A” goal time for a “B” goal
  • Adjusted your goal pace because it started to feel intimidating or fatiguing
  • Promised yourself that if you can just get to the finish, no matter what the time, you’ll be satisfied. Anything to make the pain stop!

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

Our goal this year is to eliminate these doubts and replace them with confident, positive, and constructive thoughts that lead you to better performances.

Even a small amount of sports psych training can have profound effects. Here’s a story about the first time I experimented with visualization in my own running career:

And in hindsight, my best races were when I was having fun, I loved the suffering, and I was mentally fit enough to endure the discomfort.

It’s incredible what a week of visualization will do! But imagine if I had been working on my mental fitness for years…

My confidence in my abilities would have been higher. I might have had a few races with faster finishing times, due to higher levels of self-belief and mental toughness.

And I wouldn’t have missed so much time due to injury because my training goals would have been more appropriate.

Much like running itself, mental fitness skills take time to develop.

And every day not spent on these skills is a day wasted.

Why Focus on Our Mental Fitness?

jason running mountains

The mental side of running has gotten more and more attention over the last five years. It seems that runners are starting to realize how important their mindset is for achieving big goals.

And after publishing 120+ podcast episodes and interviewing elite track athletes, mountain runners, triathletes, ultramarathoners, and everyone in between, it’s clear that even the best in the world are actively training their brain.

It makes sense that even the professionals are training their mindset. The next frontier in improving peak performances is in mastering our mindset, developing optimal thinking patterns, and developing the psychological tools to mitigate adversity.

Those “psychological tools” give you a lot of benefits:

  • Improved confidence and self-image
  • Better emotional management during periods of high stress, like right before a major race
  • The ability to set more realistic and challenging goals
  • Improved focus during racing and training
  • More productive self-talk (which is the “story” you tell yourself about you)
  • Increased motivation to get the work done no matter what

With a thorough understanding of sports psychology – and the ability to apply it – you’ll be able to cope with many different types of stressors and still excel.

When motivation is low, you’ll know how to complete your workouts despite that.

When injury or illness strikes, you’ll know how to get excited about recovery and your comeback to healthy running.

When it gets tough late in a race and you start to hurt, you’ll know how to push through and finish strong.

Denisse is a good example of becoming better at handling pressure, becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and building confidence over the course of a season:

“Last Sunday I ran my half marathon and to my surprise I did it in 1:51. That’s 10 minutes faster than my PR! I had already felt strong but it was great to see how I could do better under pressure. And thanks to the workouts I am becoming used to pushing myself harder while fatigued.

I feel confident because I know exactly what to do and I know I’m not overdoing it or underdoing it. I really look forward to see what I can achieve in the next half of the program!” – Denisse

Anne is another great example of developing mental fitness:

“I ran a half marathon and PR’d by almost 5 minutes! (to 1:49). I’m definitely crediting it to my marathon plan, it changed my way of thinking about my capabilities and I knew I had it in me, that I had to trust myself and go for it and it would work.

I felt good the whole way, confident, serene, and happy. So another positive outcome of your coaching!” – Anne

See how Anne built confidence and self-belief through training? And how those mental skills bled into her racing ability?

Your results are impacted by – and nearly dictated by – your brain in a sport like endurance running.

What to Expect this Month

This month we’re launching a new series all about mental fitness. I’ll be answering a lot of your questions:

  • How do I shut that little voice in my head off that wants me to slow down or give up?
  • What are the best ways to stop feeling so nervous before a race?
  • How do I believe in myself more and “go for it” in races when I’m usually scared?
  • What can I do to stay focused on my training for longer than a few weeks?

These questions are difficult! There is no simple answer so I’ll be bringing in sports psychologists, coaches, and other experts to help us figure out how to develop these mental fitness skills.

I’ll also be posting new guidance, material, and tips on our social media channels:

Give me a follow on those platforms and you won’t miss a thing!

But I also want to make sure I’m publishing videos, podcasts, and articles that directly address the biggest concerns that you have about your mindset.

So with that said, please leave a comment below with your most pressing problem or question about the mental side of running.

I’ll be creating all-new material and I want to make sure it’s as helpful as possible for you.

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A Confession About 2019: Why There Was No “Year Of”…

Every year on Strength Running, I announce a theme that helps us focus on a particular topic throughout the year. But that didn’t happen last year…

This is a tradition that goes back to the very beginning of Strength Running. Way back in 2011, my goal was to help you run faster (well, that’s always been my goal!). So I coined 2011 the Year of the PR.

It kept going:

  • 2012 was the Year of Stretch Goals
  • 2013 was the Year of Consistency
  • 2014 was the Year of Injury-free Running
  • 2015 was the Year of Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
  • 2016 was the Year of the Team
  • 2017 was the Year of Fundamentals
  • 2018 was the Year of Strength

I’ve found this to be a high-impact way of starting the year. It focuses our attention, gives me a big theme to come back to throughout the year if I need inspiration, and influences a lot of the content that I make for you.

In hindsight, this also lets you see what areas I think are particularly important to focus on for runners.

And it’s also just more fun! The feedback in January every year is always great. I hear about your goals, aspirations, and what you’d like to accomplish. It forces us all to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’d like to go.

I also learn more about your struggles, failures (ahem, learning opportunities), and the sticking points that prevent you from improving. Sometimes, knowing about your problems is more productive for me because then I can address them directly and create podcasts, videos, and articles that solve each issue.

But you might have noticed that there was no theme for 2019.

We skipped right past that and went into a “Best of 2018” post. What happened?!?

Why 2019 Was Different

jason and papa

Halloween, 1985

On December 20th, my grandfather (Papa) passed away. I’m not very good at sharing personal issues, but here goes…

I had flown to Florida to see him the previous weekend because we knew he wasn’t doing well and time was short. Years of battling cancer will do that.

But I wasn’t really prepared to see him in that condition. He couldn’t talk much and in hindsight, it was clear he was less than a week from passing away.

This was the first time in my life that someone close to me died and it shook my world more than I thought it would. My grandfather was like a dad to me, especially considering that my parents are divorced and I don’t have a relationship with my father.

When I found out, I slumped to the floor and spent hours looking through old photographs. I couldn’t bring my daughter to school. I couldn’t work. My wife took over a lot of household chores. I didn’t even run that day. I was a wreck.

All of the plans that I had for early 2019 were postponed because I simply couldn’t bring myself to think too hard. Grief, I found, was a powerful performance limiter.

I was able to pick things back up after a few weeks but I had lost the spark to start a big campaign in the new year.

So all the material I was planning – including a brand new coaching program that I had been researching for over two years – was put on hold.

Learning From Loss

Papa & Nana

Papa & Nana waiting for my wedding to start

I was devastated to abandon the consistency I had built into Strength Running. For 7 years, I started every January the same.

But I accepted that 2019 would be different. I needed time for my own mental health rather than pushing forward and working so hard. Similar to getting a major running injury, I was resigned to treatment rather than training.

Of course, running helped me through my grandfather’s loss and my panic over not working as hard last January. Everything I learned from 21+ years of training pulled me through this gut-wrenching time in my life:

  • Mental toughness to endure difficulty
  • Discipline to do what I didn’t necessarily want to do
  • The ability to focus on what was truly important
  • Confidence in my business and my audience to take a brief step back from work

It wasn’t easy, but the psychological skills I gained from endurance training were pivotal in how I managed my grief.

But I also want to thank those who helped me through this time:

Jonathan Levitt, who lost his own grandfather last year.

Scott Jones, whose dad passed away too young.

And Amelia Boone, who’s recovering from an eating disorder.

I look up to these folks for sharing their grief, pain, struggles, and their loss so publicly. Personally, I struggle with that. I tend to retreat inward during times of emotional volatility. All I could manage last year was a Twitter thread

But their words and example showed me that loss is universal. Their acts of public vulnerability helped reinforce that we’re all going through something.

Moving Forward with Grace

Meaghan & Papa

Papa dancing with my wife Meaghan. He always loved a party.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Italy with a 3rd grade education. He often worked three jobs to support his four children but ultimately owned his own business, house, and vacation home.

He’s the embodiment of the American Dream, the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can find success in this country. Through his example, I learned about the value of hard work, independence, and perseverance.

And I know that if I could talk to him today, he’d want me to endure the grief that I still feel today and press forward. He’d want me to do better than I did last year. Instead of succumbing to grief for months, my grandfather would want me to work hard and do my best.

So Papa, if you’re listening somehow, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to give Strength Running all I have. I want to elevate the sport of running and give as many runners as possible the knowledge, tools, and drive to improve beyond their expectations.

This year, I want to focus more on the mental skills that were so paramount to my running but also to my processing the loss off my grandfather. Skills like:

  • Anxiety management
  • Focus (long vs. short-term)
  • Intensity
  • Mental toughness
  • Confidence

Next week, I’m kicking off 2020 in true Strength Running fashion by announcing our theme and working my butt off to help you become a faster, healthier, and more mentally resilient runner.

If you’re onboard, I can’t wait to share all of this with you. Hop on our email list if you’re not already to be the first to hear new announcements. Until then, I’ll send you our best training guidance.

Here’s to making this year our best ever, together. Salute!

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Can I Help You Build Your Mental Fitness?

Running is a physically demanding sport – there’s no question about that. But your success is just as driven by your mental strength as well as your physical prowess.

Mental Fitness

A foundation of mental fitness helps you push through tough times (whether that’s a single mile in a 5k or an entire training cycle), no matter what race you’re training to run.

In a few weeks, we’re going to focus much more on “mental fitness” and the skills that make it up:

  • Focus
  • Anxiety management
  • Mental toughness
  • Intensity
  • Confidence

These are extraordinary skills that can make or break a runner’s race performance. And having control of your mindset is a clear competitive advantage.

And if you’re willing, I would love you to answer this short 3-question survey to help me develop the best material possible!

There are some runners who aren’t even aware that they need to improve their mental game. Maybe you never feel like you lack confidence or face too much anxiety on race day.

Or perhaps you always feel “tough” during races, never giving in to that negative voice in your head that tells you to slow down.

Regardless, sports psychology fundamentals are still applicable to every runner.

And all of us have a lot to gain by developing our mental fitness alongside our physical fitness.

Today I want to introduce you to Jennifer, a runner in my 1-on-1 coaching program. She’s a classic case study of a runner who believed she didn’t need very much help… only to discover how much that support improved her running.

Mental Fitness Starts With Physical Fitness

Jennifer Mental Fitness

No runner becomes mentally strong without difficult training. By challenging the body, you then challenge the mind.

Jennifer realized this when we started working together. She wasn’t sure what she was capable of and our journey to building her mental fitness began with her training. She told me:

“Before training with you, I was very uncertain as to my ability – it wasn’t a lack of confidence, or a lot of anxiety – it was mainly a lack of knowledge.

I was just getting by with ‘formulaic training’ and not an approach that matched my real ability.”

My job as her coach was to help Jennifer believe in her abilities and that would give her confidence. That new confidence in her fitness would bleed into her mindset, helping her develop mental toughness and grit.

But of course, this process takes time.

That’s because you must push yourself to do things you’ve never done before, whether a faster workout, higher weekly mileage, or more days of running per week.

For Jennifer, it began with increasing her weekly mileage. She admits that it was a struggle at first to adapt to all the running (“there is A LOT of it”), but she eventually grew more accustomed to the miles.

This dedication also led to faster workouts and a subsequent shift in confidence:

“My mindset changed after I successfully attempted workouts I didn’t think I would have been able to do prior. This didn’t happen right away – it evolved over time.

I started to really see my effort get lower with my times getting faster – and that was when my confidence really shifted.”

Whether you’re a beginner or experienced runner trying to improve, mental fitness evolves over time. Your mental toughness, confidence, and ability to focus all build as you venture into new training territory.

Your Mental Game is About Problem Solving

At its most fundamental, mentally tough athletes are great problem solvers. Just think of all the problems that runners experience:

  • Injuries
  • Training interruptions (vacations, work commitments, kids getting sick)
  • Race-related pain and fatigue
  • Low motivation and negative self-talk

Over the last two years, I’ve been working with Jennifer to approach every issue with this problem-solvers mentality. And we don’t apply this approach to her problems, but also to her successes as well!

I asked her about this and she said:

You support your athletes with thoughtful feedback. After hearing a struggle or a triumph, you really drill into what should come next.

If it’s a struggle, you break it down to a level that is easily understandable and doesn’t get you down – it’s a realistic approach to the next step. I’ve trained a couple of 5ks with you, several half marathons and 3 marathons. Now I will just say that I trust my training with you based on experience.

Perhaps the biggest struggle was her build for the 2019 New York City Marathon. Things were not going very well…

Jennifer was battling summer heat in Texas, wasn’t having fun, and her training wasn’t ideal.

But as soon as she wanted to quit, we reevaluated and turned things around. She said:

You encouraged me, reminded me of my goals, and that made me turn my mindset around pretty fast.

Instead of agreeing with me that yes, it was hot, and yes, my times were slow, that doesn’t mean I was going to have a bad race. And I didn’t have a bad race! Again, this was a realistic approach.

Jennifer ran only a few minutes behind her PR at the NYC Marathon but was pleased with her time. It’s not an easy course, after all!

I Want to Build YOUR Mental Skills

Working with my 1-on-1 coaching clients on building mental fitness is a thrill. We’re in regular contact on goal setting, evaluating performances, race strategy, and tactics for increasing mental toughness.

But I know not everyone can work with a private running coach.

So I’ve been hard at work building a new program to help runners boost their psychological skill set and become the confident, mentally tough athlete they know they can be.

There’ll be a lot more info coming out in the weeks and months ahead, including:

  • More case studies of successful runners
  • Sports psychology strategies like self-talk, proper goal-setting, visualization, and more
  • Mindset traps to avoid that make mental toughness even harder to achieve

While sports psychology may sound too “out there” to some, it’s ultimately grounded in practicality. You learn how to set big goals, tackle them in an appropriate time frame, and effectively manage any setbacks that may come along the way.

These skills are essential to success.

To better help you, I’ve created a short 3-question survey on mental fitness here.

My goal is to use your feedback to create coaching material that directly solves your problems, gives you the strategies you need to achieve your goals, and make sure every question you have is answered in the coming months.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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Elite Mountain Runner Peter Maksimow on Public Lands, IPA’s, and Plogging

Peter Maksimow has running in his blood. Maybe that’s why he’s so immersed in the trail, ultra, and mountain running communities.

Peter Maksimow

Photo by Adam Williams

A member of the 2015 silver-medal winning World Long Distance Mountain Running team, Peter has been running since middle school. His mother wouldn’t let him play football so he found running and excelled.

Since then, he’s gradually surrounded himself with all things running.

Peter is the Outreach & Partnerships Specialist for the American Trail Running Association, coaches a local youth group, lives in the mountains in Manitou Springs, and used to be a race director.

He’s sponsored by INOV-8 and prefers the steepest mountain races you can find.

Not to mention, he loves a great craft beer!

I first met Peter at the US Trail Running Conference in Estes Park, CO. We sat together at lunch, had a great conversation, and I’m excited to bring his perspectives to the Strength Running Podcast.

Peter Maksimow on Trails, Mountains, and Conservation

Peter is on the podcast today to discuss a wide-ranging set of issues that affect runners:

  • What counts as “trail running” (especially if you live in a city)
  • How you can get involved with trail maintenance in your area
  • Plogging and how we can leave spaces better than we found them
  • His favorite type of race
  • The ATRA trail race calendar

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

Please be sure to say hi to Peter on social media and thank him for coming on the podcast!

Also, a big thank you is in order for SteadyMD for sponsoring this episode of the podcast! Learn more about their medical services for runners and how you can benefit from a physician who understands runners.

No wait times, no copays, no office visits. Just a doctor who understands runners who’s always available for you 24/7.

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How to Become a Competitive Trail Runner with Abby Levene

Trail running helps runners in so many ways that every runner ought to be asking themselves, “How can I add more trails to my training!?”

Abby Leven Trail Running

Abby Levene trail running to the top of the world. Photo: Daniel Bichler

Getting on an off-road surface (the broadest definition of trail running) for more weekly miles can be a profound way to improve your training – even if you’re preparing for a road or track race.

Looking back on my college years, even during the indoor and outdoor track seasons we ran on trails (or grass and cinder paths) for a majority of our mileage.

It forces the questions: why run trails if you’re not preparing for a trail race?

Well, because of all the benefits of trail running!

Trail Running is More Fun

Forget the sidewalk or dodging cars on the road. What about dodging rocks, fallen trees, and surprising wildlife?

Why not expose yourself to the emotionally soothing benefits of nature?

Sounds like a much more interesting way to pass the miles!

Running Trails Prevents Injuries

Uneven terrain, more turns and hills, and obstacles like roots and technical ground make trail running a more athletically demanding activity than running on a smooth, concrete sidewalk.

And while it might be more difficult and a bit slower, that’s a good thing. All that technicality improves your ability to prevent injuries.

Trail Running Builds Athleticism

Part of the reason that trails help you prevent injuries is because you become more athletic (here’s how). You build agility, mobility, strength, and coordination by running more technical terrain.

And that athleticism improves your ability to stay healthy and run faster.

This trail running video explores these benefits even more (and discusses when you should stop running trails if you’re prepping for a long road race):

And I wanted to get the perspective of a great trail runner – a pro – on how we can get started with trails.

Enter: Abby Levene.

Abby Levene on the Trail Running Experience

Abby Levene is relatively new to the ultramarathon distance but has been racing for most of her life. She competed for the University of Colorado at Boulder as a grad student and has a background in the 5k and 10k.

But as it happens so frequently to Colorado residents, the mountains came calling. In just the last few years, Abby has made a name for herself as an Adidas sponsored trail runner.

And just about two weeks ago, Abby placed 5th at the renowned North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships in her first 50-mile race ever. Talk about a debut!

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • How track prepared her for long trail races,
  • How her love for trail running began in Boulder, CO
  • What her transition was like from the track to the trails
  • The mindset shifts that are necessary as you start trail running
  • Her advice for aspiring trail runners

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

Abby is a genuine pleasure to hang out with and her joy for the sport of running is practically tangible. I hope you enjoy this conversation and if so, an honest review on Apple Music means a lot!

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Season Planning and the Pro Runner Experience with Kate Grace & Endeavorun

The pro runner experience captured my imagination during my college years. Can you just imagine running for your job?!

Kate Grace Race

Kate Grace rockin’ Old Glory

Perhaps the college track experience gives an athlete a brief taste of what being a pro runner might be like.

After all, I didn’t just go to practice after class. I had…

  • a physical therapist available to me at any time for treatment and advice
  • several coaches looking out for my well-being
  • a team of other runners to support and encourage my progress
  • excellent facilities with cross-training equipment, an Olympic-size pool, and a gym for weightlifting
  • a free uniform, travel to races, and special treatment to occasionally miss classes

Man, life was good!

But after graduating and starting to work, I realized that “real life” knocks running down the priority list.

Planning a coherent season – never mind a full “pro runner experience” – became much more difficult.

Even though better planning leads to faster racing, the planning part was easy to dismiss. And that was to my detriment: my seasons became less periodized, I had fewer support systems, and I didn’t have the accountability of a team and a coach.

Now, one of my goals as a virtual coach is to give adult runners the structure of a well-planned season.

And to help me do that, I’ve invited two special guests on the Strength Running Podcast.

Kate Grace & Endeavorun: The Pro Runner Experience

Kate Grace Strength

“Fast Kate” Grace is one of the United States’ most decorated and accomplished middle-distance runners. She’s an Olympian, Olympic Trials champion, and a runner-up at outdoor nationals in the 1500m.

She was also our guest on Episode 97 of the podcast.

Kate is a Nike-sponsored athlete, a member of the Bowerman Track Club, and a 4:22 miler.

She joins us on the podcast to discuss how an elite runner like herself plans an entire season from start to finish. We’re discussing:

  • Overall length of the season, tune-up race scheduling and strategy, and planning
  • Her support team of coaches, experts, and clinicians that makes it all possible
  • Linear vs. nonlinear periodization and the progress of her workouts

But she’s not the only guest on the podcast today! You’ll also be hearing from my old friend and former teammate, Jake Tuber.

Jake is the mastermind behind Endeavorun, a new coaching program that gives regular runners like us the “pro athlete experience” with:

  • A kickoff retreat in Tracktown USA at the University of Oregon
  • Coaching and custom training for every registrant
  • A team of PT’s, dietitians, and elite runners (like Kate Grace) to keep your running on track
  • VIP race experience and ongoing support – just like the pros

It’s a coach, running camp, strength programming, fan experience with pro runners, training program, and nutritionist rolled into one program.

The running community has not seen a program this comprehensive; it virtually defies definition and I’m excited to be a part of it next year.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

A big thanks to both Kate and Jake for joining us on the podcast!


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Max King on Athleticism, Strength Training, and How to Thrive in Any Race

Max King is a Renaissance Man of running: whether he’s steepling on the track, mountain running, or racing trail ultras, he thrives at any distance on any terrain.

Max King Running

I first became aware of Max King in 2014 when he won the World Warrior Dash Championship. I realized – after winning my own Warrior Dash in 2012 – that runners are often the best OCR competitors.

Before I first interviewed Max, I studied his career and was absolutely amazed by his accomplishments in virtually every discipline there is in the sport of running:

  • Trail races
  • Ultramarathons
  • Cross country
  • 3,000m steeplechase on the track
  • Road marathons
  • Obstacle course races
  • Mountain running

If it involves mostly running, Max King is a dominant athlete.

And he’s not just a finisher – or even a medalist. He’s often the ultimate victor, having won world Warrior Dash and mountain running championships and trail and ultramarathon national championships. He’s even dabbled in triathlon and adventure races.

That’s a major reason I asked Max to contribute to our Little Black Book of Recovery & Prevention (9 pro runners shared their favorite injury prevention advice). I wanted to know how such a versatile athlete stayed healthy and prevented injuries.

But today, we’re discussing something different: how Max King trains.

Max King on Training for Any Kind of Race

Whether he’s scrambling up boulders or flying down a gnarly mountain descent, Max seems to be able to transition seamlessly between any and all types of running.

It doesn’t matter if the race is on the roads, track, trails, mountains, or obstacle course, he’s ready to excel.

So I’m very excited to explore the training that Max does to keep him in shape for all off these adventures for the Strength Running Podcast.

In this conversation, we discuss a lot:

  • His experience at the 2019 US Trail Running Conference
  • Why runners should be advocates for our public lands
  • How he thinks about mobility training
  • His background with running as a kid that drove him to fall in love with the sport
  • The elements of training that are always present + the specifics he adds depending on the event
  • How Max structures his strength training and what he focuses on

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

Our sponsor for this episode is Rockay Socks. I’ve been wearing Rockay Socks for awhile now and have put them through all kinds of tortuous testing in a big snow storm that we had here in Denver recently. And they are performing great!

They have seamless toes to prevent blisters and I love that their Ecowhite collection is 100% recycled, including getting a lot of their raw materials from ocean waste. At a time when we’re dumping more than 12 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year, Rockay is reclaiming some of that to help runners with their training. Talk about a win-win.

Each pair has anti-odor technology, a lifetime guarantee, and we even have a discount code. Use code SGTEN to save 10% on their socks on their website.

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How Anna Mae Flynn Trains for Trail Ultramarathons

Ultramarathons are quickly becoming this generation’s marathon: everyone seems to be doing an ultra-distance race!

Anna Mae Flynn Ultra Marathon

Anna Mae Flynn running in the Grand Canyon. PC Joshua Stevens

The sport of ultra running is exploding right now. Consider that the number of ultramarathons grew by about 1,000% over the last decade. In 2006, about 160 races were listed around the world. Last year, that number grew to an incredible 1,800.

In 2003, nearly 18,000 people finished an ultra in North America. That figure grew to 105,000 in 2017.

But while more and more runners are making the leap to the ultra distance (technically anything longer than the length of a 26.2-mile marathon), we haven’t yet figured out the ideal way to train for one.

This was made quite apparent last month when I moderated a discussion among ultra trail runners in Boulder, CO. Even elite runners are a singular experiment of one – and their training reflects a wide-ranging approach to the ultra distances.

Some cross-train while others don’t. Others come from a speed background and still incorporate faster workouts – others haven’t run fast in months.

While many ultra runners focus exclusively on super long trail distances, others still race short events and venture onto the roads or track.

In other words, we don’t yet know the optimal way to train a human being for these incredible performances.

But today I want to give you one approach that’s been working very well for one runner: Anna Mae Flynn.

Anna Mae Flynn on Conquering Ultras

Anna Mae is actually a recent entry into the world of ultramarathons. She debuted at the 2015 Way Too Cool 50k – only to have her finish time qualify as a top-10 all-time performance.

Today, her sponsors include:

She’s the current course record holder (and 2019 winner) of the Speedgoat 50 Miler. You can usually find her exploring trails and mountains near her home in Marble, Colorado.

Anna Mae joins me on the Strength Running Podcast to discuss her training. Specifically, we talk about:

  • The (big) role cross-training plays in her ultramarathon preparation
  • How she mitigates and takes advantage of altitude
  • What a typical, heavy training day looks like for her
  • Her average weekly mileage and vertical gain
  • How she recovers after a 100 miler vs. a 50k ultra
  • Injury prevention strategies for ultra runners (and the rest of us!)

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Resources & Links:

Please join me in thanking Anna Mae for talking to us while she was traveling through the mountains! Give her a shout on Insta – I know she’ll appreciate it.

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