Workouts As Mental Training

Most runners know that speed workouts are vital to improving your fitness and preparing to race your best.


Most runners also know that the mental side of racing is at least as important as the physical side.


But for some reason, most runners don’t take the next step of connecting these two things.


Instead, they focus on improving the physical side of their running during speed workouts and ignore the mental side — and they miss a golden opportunity to get better in the process.


Connect the physical and mental sides of running in your workouts


Because speed workouts are the most challenging run of the week, it’s the perfect time to train mentally for better racing. 


Here are three key ways to make sure that you get the mental AND physical benefits out of your speed work:




I’ve talked before about how important an effective warm-up routine is. But what I find interesting is how many people use one warm-up routine for a speed workout and a totally different one for races.


If your warm-up routine is good enough for speed work, why isn’t it good enough for a race? Or put another way, if you’re doing your “best” warm-up for a race, why are you selling yourself short on workout days?


That’s one reason why I like people to keep their warm-up the same for workouts and races. But the other is comfort and familiarity. 


Use the same warm-up for workouts and races


Our bodies like routine and I think when you’re getting ready to race there is something very calming about going through the same routine that you’ve done dozens of times before as a warm-up. It brings you back to the familiar, allows you to focus on you, and reminds you how prepared you are to run well.


So next time you warm-up for a speed workout, make sure that what you’re doing is what you plan to do on race day — you’ll be laying the groundwork for a better mental experience at the race if you do.




One of the coaches that I’ve had learned a ton from over the years is Scott Simmons. And one phrase of his that I really like is “find the race in the workout.”


This doesn’t mean that you should be racing your workouts — you shouldn’t. It means there are similarities between what your body is going through in the workout and what it is going to go through in the race, and you should use that to practice your mental approach as well.


Use the physical discomfort of the workout to practice your mental tactics


As you work your way through a speed workout, take note of how you’re feeling, where the discomfort sets in, and how your body reacts to that discomfort. Then begin to practice how you’re going to react to that situation on race day.


What are you going to say to yourself? When are you going to say it? What are you going to focus on to get yourself back on track?


Practicing these things during workouts allows you to find what really works for you mentally. And doing it repeatedly will increase its effectiveness on race day, as well.


If you can “find the race in the workout” you will make sure that you’re training your brain as well as your body in your speed workouts. 




The final recommendation is more of a reminder. Your body and your mind will get accustomed to what you do in workouts — so you want to make sure that you’re working out the way that you want to race.


Workout the way you want to race


If you’re always going out too fast in speed workouts and dying off at the end, you’re not training your brain to increase your effort as you get tired.


If you’re always skipping the last couple reps of a workout, it’s going to be really hard to be mentally prepared for the tough final miles of a race.


So make sure that the habits you’re practicing in speed workouts are good ones, because your body and your brain are taking notes — and you want to make sure you’re ready to pass the test on race day!



About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.