Interval Training is Mental

Intervals. Love them or hate them. Any decent running program is going to include them. This is a peak performers way to help you get the most from your interval work.

A standard approach to mindful practice is to focus on your breath as it comes and goes while you are in a comfortable meditative position. Running a hard interval is a long way from that comfortable meditative position. Zen Buddhist masters have been using every day tasks to teach the lessons of mindfulness for centuries. After all if you can only be present sitting quietly on a cushion then it’s a very limited skill, certainly of no use to an athlete.

What we want is to be able to access that same space between stimulus and response that mediation brings us to, that place where the present moment has ALL of our attention. As a sportsman it’s the place where your brain is so challenged by the environmental stimulus that it can’t spare processing power for anything but this moment. Any more challenging and you will likely die, faint or just give up because what you are doing is too difficult. That fine line of just outside your comfort zone, challenging but doable, barely. That’s the thing we are looking for.

Enter Intervals! It’s the intensity of the interval, near max effort , RPE of 9 or 10 that is the key. Then pick something to focus on, breath, foot strike, knee drive, posture. It makes very little difference which it is. For the duration of the interval only focus on that. Focus on the present moment, on the process of running and the end of the interval will arrive on it’s own. 

The mistake a lot people make is focusing on the future. They look to the finish line, or they set mini goals along the way which pulls them away from the present and into the future. If you are mentally in the future then your lack of presence in this moment means that you are not in proper control of your body. You are not giving your absolutely best effort at this precise moment, in fact you have no idea what kind of effort you’re giving because you’re in the future. The same is true if you are chasing somebody or trying to beat somebody. Either way you are not paying attention to what your body is doing right now. The other mental trap is allowing the number of repetitions to influence your effort. Just run this interval, give this one your full focus and correct effort. You can use the recoveries between intervals to lose the present moment but when it’s time for the next interval focus only on that interval.

Think of interval work as precision work. Precision is developed by being present and repeating the correct action every time, hundreds of thousands of times over days and years. As a runner your body is the instrument. Learn to use your body properly, practice with it and wield it with precision.

The more you practice being present when running , the easier you will be able to access that state. This state or ‘being in the zone’ is the true secret to top performance and of finding bliss in your running.

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