Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Runner's Brain - Book Review

 Disclamer:  I was given an electronic copy of the book "The Runner's Brain" to review in exchange for my honest opinion.  All opinions are my own. 

When I started running, I was solely focused on training my body to go for long periods of time.  I didn't actually think about the mental side of things.  It wasn't until I did my first Ironman that I actually started to focus on the mental aspect of endurance sports.

Let's be real, when you're out there plodding away for hours at a time, you're going to experience lows and highs.  Doubt will creep in.  It might even creep in BEFORE you toe the start line. And that can be your undoing.  Doubt can make even the most gifted athlete falter.   The importance of a strong mental game cannot be underestimated.  Not only do you need to be physically prepared, but you need to be mentally prepared as well.

Developing that is not easy.  It can require a lot of mental trickery and game playing - at least for me.  Luckily Dr. Jeff Brown has stepped in and created a "How To" book.   He is the head psychologist for the Boston Marathon.  He specializes in an area of psychology called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  CBT for short.  The approach of CBT is to focus on negative thought patterns and challenge the individual to re-calibrate and restructure the brain with more productive thoughts.  I actually saw a CB therapist to help me deal with my fear of flying.  I've learned to reframe situations by applying logic and that seems to eradicate any fear I may be experiencing.  This type of psychology can also be used to help you in your running and Dr. Brown shows you how in this book.



The book is divided into five parts.   Part One is called Running and Your Brain and it goes over running and effect it has on your brain and what it can do for your brain.  It also gives you tips and strategies on how to start identifying yourself as a runner.  Very useful for new runners who don't see themselves as such just yet.

Part Two is called Brain Strategies and it delves into the importance of goal setting (there are some AMAZING tips on how to do this), visualization, and training your brain on how to respond to certain situations.  It also talks about the power of good running outfit (or "enclothed cognition" as it's referred to in the book).   That's something I think we can all get behind!

Part Three is called Training and Racing and it touches on topics like group training vs solo training and the benefits of both.  It also asks the question "should you compete?"  There are plenty of runners out there that don't race and there's nothing wrong with that.  It's a question that many runners don't actually ask themselves.  For many, a race provides the necessary motivation to get out and train.   For others, they just don't have the interest.  Hitting the pavement solo is enough for them.  This part also touches on the psychology of racing and how to manage competition and the anxiety that generally comes with it as well as dealing with post race blues, which are normal for many people.  I found this particular chapter to be incredibly interesting and helpful.  Especially the tips on calming the pre-race jitters.

Part Four is called Challenges and it deals with just that, some of the challenges that runners will face during a race.  There is an entire chapter dedicated to "Hitting the Wall" and the best strategies to deal with it.  I found it interesting that I use a fair bit of the techniques that they discuss, especially when the going gets tough and it gets me to the finish line standing upright and smiling (for the most part) every single time.  It gives you strategies for mentally dealing with hills.   And the BIG one for me, dealing with something every runner feels at some point - the fear of failure.  There are some great strategies in here for dealing with self doubt.  There is a chapter that deals with Life Changes, like getting older, having kids, dealing with a major source of stress and of course dealing with injury.  All of these things can affect your running and your mental running game.  This section also has a chapter on how to deal with weather as well as "Boredom Busters" for treadmill running.  I'd buy this book for this section alone.

Part Five is called Resources for Runners and it is a goldmine of information.  There is an entire section of worksheets to help you gather your thoughts (I've included a screen grab of one of them below).  Personally, I find it much better to put my thoughts on paper and these work sheets give you the opportunity to do so in a way you might not have thought of doing.  There is even a pre-race checklist in this section.  There is also a Runners Flip Chart that lists negative self talk and how to re-frame it as positive thinking.  There is even a positive thinking worksheet.  I used a very similar worksheet when I was working with my therapist.  It's amazing how something so simple can be so powerful when you stop and take a few minutes to actually *think* things through and write them down.  I wish I had this book when I did my first Ironman! 



This section helps you put everything together with their "7 Step Fit Brain Training Plan".  The last chapter in this section gives you a glimpse into how some of the greatest runners think from Dean Karnazes to Meb Keflezighi to Joan Benoit Samuelson, Dr. Brown had the pleasure of speaking with them to find out how they think.  There are excerpts from 8 elite level runners that give you a look into what goes through their heads when they're racing and training.  It's pretty cool.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to up their mental game whether it be in running or even in triathlon, I think these strategies would apply to both sports.  Since I am a sucker for a real book that I can actually flip the pages of, I've actually ordered a copy for myself.

If you're interested in getting a copy for yourself or for that runner / triathlete in your life (Christmas is coming!!), you can find it here











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