Mind Over Matter

Training is beginning to pick up as marathon season fast approaches!  Runners are physically preparing to run farther than ever before or conquer personal bests from years past.  An absurd amount of time is being spent replenishing nutrients lost in sweat during the summer heat.  Foam rollers are being worn out from the constant need to loosen tight muscles or even the dreaded IT Band. But at some point on race day, your mind is going to question your physical limits.  No matter the miles run, fluids consumed, or muscles foam rolled, you will have to be ready mentally.  So what are you doing to prepare mentally? 

In a recent crossover study by Ramzy Ross et al.1, researchers examined the effects of a placebo injection on male endurance runners. Runners were randomly assigned to either the placebo group or the control group. The athletes receiving the placebo were told the injection improved oxygen carrying capacity to muscles like that of erythropoietin (EPO). The athletes ran several 3-km races against each other over a span of 30+ days. Each runner was given the opportunity to race as part of the placebo group once and the control group once. Athletes were told not discuss with each other which group they were assigned to.

Following the study, researchers found that athletes performed 1.2% faster for the 3-km race after receiving placebo injections compared to receiving no injection at all.  That’s an average of 9.73 seconds faster!  The athletes also expressed feeling a decrease in physical effort as well as improvement in recovery time while training/racing with the placebo injection. 

Why would someone run faster with the placebo than without it? The answer is between the ears.  Sometimes our biggest barriers are not physical but mental.  One way to help prepare mentally is to use mental imagery, visualizing yourself succeeding or persevering through certain points in the race.   Before you get to race day, picture yourself at mile 20 keeping a strong running form or crossing the finish line having run your goal time.  Another way you can mentally prepare is to have a mantra that gets you through tough points in the race.  Mantras like: “I am strong”, “I can do this”, or “This too shall pass” 

Whatever your training program consists of, don’t forget about mental preparation.  Find your 1.2%!

1.    Ross R, Gray CM, Gill JMR. Effects of an Injected Placebo on Endurance Running Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2015;47(8):1672-1681. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000000584.

Adam Saloom, SDPT Guest Contributor