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How hammer sessions and mind over matter will get you running even faster


Set your mind back to the point in a race where you think you've given it 100pc - the thoughts of having to run another three to four miles seems impossible, yet when you get within 500m of the finish line and hear the roars from the crowd, low and behold a surge of energy fills your entire body and you find yourself sprinting towards the finish line.

This miraculous change in your body's ability is evidence that endurance is a mind over body equation. Most of us give up mentally long before our physical bodies fatigue.

Studies have shown your brain to play a pivotal role in running. It is actually your mind that allows/limits endurance performance.

Whether you're training for your first 10k/half marathon/full marathon, there are various ways of training your brain that will help you step outside of your comfort zone, push past your limits and maximise your overall performance.

Visualisation is a powerful tool used by world-class professional athletes. The power of visualising is available to everyone anytime and anywhere. The more you practise this technique the more of a positive effect it will have on your performance.

For example, if your goal is to complete a marathon this year, start off by visualising yourself at the start line, then taking off with strong, pumping legs, relaxed breathing and perfect posture.

Now break the race into sections and visualise how you're going to run each one, what is your pace, time splits etc. If you hit the wall what strategy have you got, to pull yourself through the pain and finally see yourself running over the finish line having accomplished your goal?

Remember your mind only knows what you tell it. It cannot differentiate between what is real and imagined, that's why visualisation is so effective: it acts as a rehearsal to focus your mind on the desired success. Unfortunately visualisation isn't a golden ticket to less physical training, it is the combined strength of both mind and body that leads to optimum performance.

How many times a day do you find yourself listening to the negative voices inside your head that tell you you can't do something? Then by the end of the day you're physically drained.

Well, when running exhaustion is caused by the conscious decision to terminate endurance as opposed to muscle fatigue.

Positive self-talk involves replacing negative statements with positive ones.

This simple strategy has been shown to increase endurance by up to 18pc. Whether it's writing a mantra on your arm before you head out on a run and looking at it every few miles or listening to motivational speeches on your iPod, these techniques all reinforce positive messages to the brain and help you avoid physical exhaustion and fatigue during a run.


It's very easy to not push yourself when training alone, stepping outside your comfort zone is something that seems to only happen on race day.

However, the more you expose your brain during training to situations where pushing past your limits is necessary, the more of a habit it will become and training will be a lot more productive.

Try including what's knows as a 'hammer session' in your weekly training regimen. The goal of a hammer session is to chip away at mental constraints late in a workout that tell you that you can't run faster.

'Hammering it out' trains your brain to push farther despite how tired your body may feel.

A hammer session is similar to running intervals wherein there is periods of intense running followed by periods of recovery, the only difference is on the second-last interval, when your body usually gets ready to wind down, you do the opposite and focus on running as fast as you can.

Over time this method of training decreases your perceived effort of exertion and your body becomes accustomed to doing exactly what the mind tells it.

Every runner has an individual running pace that they fall into during a run. Studies have shown that the brain is responsible for regulation of pace and controlling how hard the muscles work.

At the beginning of a run the unconscious part of your brain decides what pace is appropriate.

It takes into account things like distance of the run, temperature, terrain and level of current fatigue.

Your pace is constantly altered throughout a run in accordance to the information received from the conscious part of your brain.

For example, when you approach a steep hill your brain assess the elevation and anticipates the level of difficulty.

If you perceive a hill as a negative obstacle, your brain will automatically send a message to your body to slow down the pace until you reach the top.

Therefore it is so important throughout the difficult stages of your run to continuously feed the conscious part of your brain with positive motivation.

Mental imagery is helpful when you find yourself struggling at certain stages of a run. By seeing, feeling and experiencing yourself moving through the actions in your mind in a way you actually want them to unfold will help tremendously when the body feels fatigue.

The next time you're running up a steep hill imagine that a rope is tied around your waist and attached to a moving car - stay focused solely on this car in front and imagine the car pulling you up the hill taking pressure off your legs.

As silly as it may sound you will be amazed at the effect.


The mind and body are not separate, what affects one affects the other. Therefore training both physically and psychologically is crucial to maximising your true running potential.

Getting your brain to work simultaneously with your body is what gets you over any finishing line.

Remember the wise words Napolean Hill once said "what the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve".


Jen Feighery; www.jenfeighery.ie; jen@jenfeighery.ie; Twitter: @feighery90