Mind of a Runner: Confidence journals, mental training and tips to achieve your goals

Thursday marked one month until my first marathon, and that’s shaping my reading and listening these days. Still, even non-marathoners should find some interesting tidbits in this week’s collection of food for thought.


“Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You.”

Kara Goucher’s new book is a mix of writing prompts, essays and tools for creating your own confidence journal, guided by Goucher’s experiences with improving her own running and life through using a confidence journal.

If you’ve read Deena Kastor’s book “Let Your Mind Run,” most of the general approach is not new, though this is a much more practical “here’s how to build your own confidence” guide than Kastor’s book, which is more a memoir. The two pair quite well together, so if you’ve read Kastor’s and wanted to put that approach into practice, “Strong” is a great next step.

The one bit that really stood out to me was “enclothed cognition,” basically that your clothing sets up your mind for success (or failure).

I’ve seen this in my own running — I have one pair of sneakers I’ve used for speed work during the past year, and I got a second pair of them to wear as my marathon sneakers because all those track workouts and threshold repeats have inextricably linked the idea of running fast with those shoes. It’s actually so linked that I contemplated wearing the new pair for the Bronx 10-miler this past Sunday and decided against it since my training planned called for that to be an easy run. It’s hard enough staying in that headspace in a race environment, so wearing my “I run fast” shoes seemed likely to cause more problems. Instead, I’ll take them out for speed work this week, then wear them for the Staten Island Half a week from Sunday (my dress rehearsal half), then save them for the marathon.

With a month to go until my marathon, the hay is pretty much in the barn on my running training. But mental training is one area I still can accomplish a lot, and Goucher’s book gives me the tools to do that.

Top Takeaway: Much like seven of the eight branches of yoga are “off the mat” yoga and a huge part of how yoga can make a difference in life, there’s a lot of “off the roads” training possible for running that can make all the difference between achieving a goal and not achieving it.

Line that stuck with me: “I believe that a good goal is both inspiring and a touch scary (in a positive sense, of course).”

Audience: It’s marketed to women, but it’s a great tool for anybody who wants to improve their mental game for running. And if you read “Let Your Mind Run” and are struggling with the practical “but HOW do I do this?” piece, definitely pick up “Strong.”


Running Rogue: What Does the Race Require? (episodes 86, 88, 89, 91)

Rogue Running coaches Steve and Chris are sometimes a little frustrating to listen to as a BOTP runner because their approach doesn’t seem relevant in a lot of cases for slower runners, at least when they start talking specific workouts. But I keep listening because I still learn a lot, plus they give a good recap of the week’s races for both road running and track and field. They also do some of the best podcasts on the mental aspects of running.

This series is a great example of the things I like and don’t like. Although they do touch on some of the challenges in marathon training for runners expecting to finish in five hours or slower, they don’t really have any useful information because they work with so few of those. At the same time, they do have a lot of good insights on what the races require mentally at each distance.

Top Takeaway: Understanding how the race distances differ in terms of the energy systems they use and how to train for them makes a big difference if you’re focusing on improving performance.

Audience: Serious competitors, whether you’re serious about competing with others or against yourself.

The Coach Jenny Show: 7 most common long run mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Episode 44 of The Coach Jenny Show was this week’s Podcast of the Week for the Sub-30 Club, and it was my first exposure to this podcast. (But not my last — I’ve subscribed.) I don’t know that there was anything on this list I hadn’t heard before, but Coach Jenny had good explanations for all of them. Also, knowing them doesn’t mean I haven’t made most of them at one point or another. Some things you can’t hear too often.

Top Takeaway: More reinforcement that Coach B knows what she’s doing and that half of what I pay her for is keeping me from doing stupid stuff with my training.

Audience: Great for newer runners, or runners who are shifting from fitness running to training for competition, but also useful reminders for experienced runners.

Head Held High: The Wé McDonald Story

This has nothing to do with running on the surface, but I ended up finding a useful mantra in here as I listed to the eight-episode serial on the way to Sunday’s race. (Full disclosure: My colleagues at NorthJersey.com put this together.) When Wé’s longtime vocal coach and mentor, Miss Yolanda, was working with her as she got further into The Voice competition, she also helped her with the mental aspect. Miss Yolanda talks about how she told Wé something she tells many of her students about not overthinking things: “Stay out of the attic.” That resonated with me, especially since I do tend to overthink things.

That section of the serial — and sadly, I forget which episode it was — is where they also talk about how Miss Yolanda steered Wé away from some music selections she wanted to do toward ones Miss Yolanda thought better showcased her talent. Since she finished third, with several of her best performances on the songs Miss Yolanda picked, I’d say listening to her coach was a good choice.

Top Takeaway: If you have a coach you trust, listen to them.

Line that stuck with me: “Stay out of the attic”

Audience: Music fans


Boston qualifying times

After the news came out that the BAA had lowered BQ times by five minutes across the board for 2020, Runner’s World had a few useful followups that caught my eye: social reaction, a more detailed explanation and a bit about the psychology of the unicorn hunt.

My immediate reaction after the news broke was “OK. So it will be harder, but I’m still Keeping a BQ as a goal.” And I am. But when I was reading the psychology piece, I also was reminded of the times I’ve said that if I got a BQ and didn’t make the cutoff, I’d be OK with it because for me it’s less about running the race and more about what getting a BQ signifies to me as a runner. I think that’s still the case, but I’m going to make a point of mentally checking in with myself over the next few years as I chase this goal to make sure I’m staying on the healthy side of the line.

Top Takeaway: There’s no answer on this that will make everybody happy, but the BAA seems to be trying to keep what makes Boston special without disappointing more people than necessary.

Line that stuck with me: “A healthy pursuit of the goal is about wanting to reach it because it’s fun to push yourself,” Oliva says. “Unhealthy pursuit is about needing to reach this goal because if you don’t, you’re a failure as a person.”

Audience: Anybody chasing a BQ, or who even thinks they might want to chase a BQ.

There’s no such thing as motivation

This is a workplace/productivity article, but it felt especially useful from a running/training perspective this week as I start to look beyond Nov. 4 and think about what comes next and how I can build toward my longterm goal of a BQ.

Top Takeaway: Motivation is done, but habits and systems are what truly help us get stuff done.

Line that stuck with me: “Instead of being disciplined about hating on yourself to get things done, try being disciplined about remaining close to what brings you joy.”

Audience: It’s geared to a work setting, but I found it useful in a running/training context.

You hit the goal! Now what?

Pete’s a fellow Sub-30 member, and it’s been great watching him improve and get closer to his goals, including a sub-30 5K. (Yes, that’s how the club got its name.) This post felt well-timed for me because earlier this week I drafted up a note for Coach B on post-NYC goals since I’m sticking with her coaching for another year.

Top Takeaway: Goals are great, but have a plan for after the goals.

Line that stuck with me: “That part, the overwhelming support, has stuck with me. The actual accomplishment, not so much.”

Audience: This is maybe the opposite of the motivation article: It’s geared to runners, but is useful in other contexts as well.

The marathon doesn’t owe you anything

Professor Badass posted this in our women’s group’s ongoing marathon discussion, and it’s easily the best thing I’ve read this week. It manages to tie together the process of training, the execution of the race and — to steal a line from the Rogue Running guys — what the race requires. The marathon is a test, and there’s no guarantee you’ll pass it. All it promises is a true assessment of who you and and where you stand in that moment.

I’ve learned a lot about myself during the past several weeks of marathon training, but I’m sure that what I learn during the final 26.2 miles I cover toward this goal of running a marathon will teach me more than everything that’s come before it.

Top Takeaway: “The point is the work; the commitment to transform.” If I were distilling this entire article down into a sentence, it would be this one.

Line that stuck with me: “Racing 26.2 miles will break you. And that’s the point. To see where you stand when you are exposed.”

Audience: Marathoners, and those thinking about tackling the marathon (or understanding the marathoner in their life).

Why lying to your coach is a terrible idea

Professor Badass nails it in this article. (And reminded me that sometimes I need to tell Coach B more than I do. Oops.) I think the lies of omission part is especially valuable. Or maybe that was just me.

Top Takeaway: Lies of omission to your coach are still lies.

Line that stuck with me: “We owe it to our coaches to move past our fears of inadequacy and failure in order to embrace honest communication.”

Audience: Geared to runners who have coaches (especially online coaches), but I think it has even more value for people thinking about getting a coach because reading this likely will make for a better runner-coach relationship from the start.

Winning the inner battle

Steve Magness is co-host of one of my other favorite running podcasts, so I was really looking forward to this when I saw he was the author, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s more or less a review of a book I haven’t read, but it was useful to me even without the book. If you find it intriguing, but of less practical help, the book he’s reviewing sounds like it would do the trick.

The section talking about the angel and devil on your shoulder during races was one that really resonated, and one I’m going to keep in my head next weekend at the Staten Island Half when Coach B assures me that she’s set the race plan up so that I have to wrestle with the dark place at some point.

Top Takeaway: The process Magness describes for dealing with urges to slow down or ease up reminds me a lot of how yoga teaches us to cope with emotions. Rather than push them away or ignore them, sit with them. Let them bubble up and then dissipate.

Line that stuck with me: Get support if you need it; but show up for the things you want to show up for.

Audience: The book that inspired the post is geared toward people dealing with mental health challenges, while the post itself applies those lessons to running.

Why having big goals can backfire

This used Brenda Martinez in the Olympic Trials as an example that really made the point of the article: focusing on the process, rather than the outcome, often leads to more success. Professor Badass, among others, has emphasized that once I finish NYC, I need to decide if I enjoy not just the marathon, but also the process of training, if marathoning is going to become a focus of my running. (So far, I do, for the record.) Reading this was a good reminder, and it gave me some tips I can use for my post-NYC goals, which are in some ways are quite process-oriented.

Top Takeaway: “Overemphasizing goals — and especially those that are based on measurable outcomes — often leads to reduced intrinsic motivation, irrational risk-taking, and unethical behavior.”

Line that stuck with me: “Knowing you put in the work, that you gave something your all, breeds a special kind of confidence, fullness, and contentment that no one can take away from you.”

Audience: Goal-oriented people, especially us Type A folks.

Phew! If you stuck with me through that entire digest, it feels like that’s equal to at least a half-marathon. I’m not even at taper yet, and I suspect my reading and listening will increase during that time.

This recap is still a work in progress, so hit me up on Twitter @CoughlinJennie, email jennie.coughlin@me.com or comment here and let me know what’s working, what isn’t, and what you’d like to see.

Mind of a Runner: What I read and listened to last week