Growing as a Runner

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Growing as a Runner

Written by Dr. Richard Ferguson Ph.D. on 29 November 2017.

Much has been written recently in popular psychology on what has been termed growth mindset. Having a growth mindset really means you feel that with time, persistence and hard work, you can achieve your goals. With a growth mindset you don’t believe there is some type of limit on how you can perform. Even if failure or setbacks occur, with a growth mindset you understand that such things are a part of the normal process of reaching your goals and achieving success. The road to success is not usually a smooth one and a growth mindset allows you to learn from your mistakes and failures and continue to work and improve your running. In stark contrast is a fixed mindset where you view your running ability as limited and poor performances as a way of confirming your limited ability. A fixed mindset simply doesn’t allow you to progress and improve as a runner.

            It’s pretty obvious that those runners that have a growth mindset perform better and enjoy their running more. In any aspect of life setbacks and failures are inevitable and running is certainly no different. A poor race, periods of sub-par training, a string of nagging injuries or just plain lack of motivation can disappoint you and make you question your ability and future as a runner. It’s not about never failing or facing difficulties, it’s more about how you react to these failures and challenges. When times get tough do you shrink back and give up or do you look at what happened, learn from the experience, and then push forward into the future? Hopefully you push forward and grow as a runner.

            Much is written concerning the issue of genetic talent and sports performance. While genetics and innate ability can never be ignored in running, having a growth mindset can carry you far in running and actually help you perform better than someone with more “talent”. In her famous book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Stanford University psychologist,Carol Dweck, talked a lot about her research and how in educational settings having a growth mindset resulted in better academic performance for many students even though their intelligence test scores would not have predicted high academic performance. It seems that those individuals who genuinely believe they can improve themselves and their performance are far more likely to actually improve. It’s their growth mindset that allows them to overcome limitations and get better. If you have a growth mindset you understand to reach challenging goals you must push your limits and sometimes pushing your limits can mean some failures. But a growth mindset means challenges don’t create a fear of failure. Failure is looked upon as a normal stepping stone on the slippery road to success and failures provide a challenge to come up with new strategies and motivations to meet and overcome the failures in the future. So a poor performance in a race can actually cause you to work harder and smarter in training, plus a poor performance can cause you to take a closer look at your overall training plan. With a growth mindset a poor performance can make you much better in the future.

            Having a growth mindset in running doesn’t mean you will become an Olympian or be on the European track circuit next summer. Many people may say a growth mindset is just another example of feel good, positive psychology and that you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. Yes, there are genetic determinants to many things in life and running most certainly is no exception. However, just be honest and ask yourself the question, “can I be a better runner with the proper psychological attitude and proper training plan that I work hard at”? In my heart I believe you will answer yes to the above question. Far, far too many runners limit themselves by their thinking!

            It really doesn’t matter if you are a 2:06 marathoner or a 25 minute 5k runner, you can improve! The key is to believe you really can improve and that you act on the belief. As a runner don’t ever limit yourself and above all don’t let anyone else limit you. Constantly remind yourself that you never really know just how good you can be as a runner unless you have a growth mindset and go after it. Maybe you won’t be the next Galen Rupp, but maybe you will run new personal bests, complete races you never thought possible and even enjoy running even more.

            Having a growth mindset may require some real effort, especially if you tend to lean on the side of a fixed mindset, but developing a more growth oriented mindset can be achieved with patience and practice. First, try to think about the areas of your running that you need to improve upon. What exactly do you need to do to improve these areas?  Maybe you need more long runs, some interval training, more threshold training or even a better diet? Don’t shy away from areas of weakness. These types of things in running are really under your control and if they are under your control you can work to improve them! No, you can’t control your genetic talent, but you can indeed control how much belief and effort you put into your training and racing.

            The road to success and goal achievement is not usually a smooth one. There will be poor training runs, injuries (I hope not!), disappointing races, defeats, and even times of questioning if you really like to run. So just how will you respond to such setbacks? Prepare yourself for success, but also prepare yourself for how you will react to failure. Be ready to learn from setbacks and actually use the information gained from them to make you a better, happier runner. Just why were you tired going into the race, what factorscontributed to the DNF marathon and even whyaren’t you as motivated as you once were. Learn new things about yourself and your running each day and put that knowledge to use in the future as you train, race or simply run for pure enjoyment.

            Sometimes it takes years to see the benefits of having a growth mindset in running. Improvement may be in very small increments, so you need to be patient. Like the old saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. Always keep in mind that you will never see improvement and progress if you simply give up. That much is certain. So keep growing as runner, not just now, but for the rest of your life.

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on

It’s the Process -

 Are You Someone’s Inspiration? -

 On Being a RUNNER -

 Bouncing Back-

 More Positive Approach to Running -  

  Pre-Race Sleep -

 The Overtraining Conundrum -

  Getting the MOST Out of Training -

  Winning is Personal -

  Affirm Your Greatness!!! -

 What is Tired? -   

 The Reason We Run -

 Some New Recruits -   

 Are You a RUNNER? -

 A Different View -

 The Components of Peak Performance -

 Running and Sleep -

 Don’t Panic! -

 The Mental Maximization of Training -

 With the Help of a Friend -

 Beating the Winter Blues-

 Go For It -

 Beating Burnout -

 A New Outlook -

 Expect the Unexpected -

 Pain or Discomfort ? -

 Keep Your Eye on the Prize -

  Running Free -

 Running and Role Models -

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