Interview: Legs are ready, is your mind?

This is the final chapter of the three part interview with sports psychology expert and author of Amazon best seller, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive (Rodale, 2014); Jim Afremow, Ph.D. Today, Jim shares more mental toughness secrets used by elite athletes and talks about coping with injury to bounce back stronger.

Question: Rundamentalists
Injury is an occupational hazard for runners of all abilities – what are your thoughts on how to cope?

Answer: Jim Afremow
Injury is a major challenge for any athlete. The emotions of helplessness and feeling powerless are very potent. One of the bitter ironies is that if runners are depressed they fix it by…..going for a run…but when you are injured you can’t. You don’t get to experience the endorphin rush and the release that running delivers. There may also be a feeling of isolation and exclusion from the running community.

Mental imagery (also known as visualization) is a very powerful technique that can help injured runners. It is actually possible to train your mind to visualize yourself running and even training with your usual running partners. A great example of this is a story I tell in the book about Steve Backley the British Javelin thrower. Steve was injured and unable to train for the ‘96 Olympics, he therefore continued to invest the same hours in mental training. Steve built high-definition videos of his training in his mind… The result was to win a silver medal against all of the odds…. And because of this triumph over adversity Steve confirmed he would cherish the silver medal more than any gold.

Another tip is to make rehab your new sport. You may not be able to run…but you can be a gold medalist at every Physical Therapy session. Also don’t isolate yourself from running and runners. For example still go to the track workouts and time-keep or volunteer at a race aid station.

Rundamentalists comment
The week of the interview , I had knee surgery and was feeling low having had to pull out of the Illinois Marathon and Ragnar Relay. Inspired by Jim’s advice, I still met up with the Evanston Running Club crew for a coffee after their long Saturday run and attend the Ragnar Relay planning meetings over a beer. Also to do something positive. I invested a weekend attending a RRCA running coaching course. My Physical Therapy visits are treated as part of a workout routine and I am learning more in the process about strength conditioning and cross-training.

Q: Rundamentalists
You coined the phrase selective amnesia…. Please explain.

A: Jim Afremow
If a previous race is firmly in the learn rather than win category this can pray on your mind. We teach golfers to treat each shot in isolation: if my last drive hooked into the lake…. For my next shot you could be feeling low and under aroused [I’ve blown it] or over pumped [I can hit it 300 yards]. This could be true of runners on the start line and it is therefore important to find a middle path ….. On a 1-10 scale, if under aroused is one and over aroused is ten – we say: “Find Your Five!”….. You are there to take care of business and this next shot or race is not connected to the previous event.

Focus on today…if you have a yesterday attitude it is easy to dwell on past failures and become prone to excuses. Worrying about tomorrow often leads to procrastination…..”Just Win Today!” because today gets you to tomorrow.

Q: Rundamentalists
In the book you have a whole section on Zen?

A: Jim Afremow
I have learned a lot from Zen teaching and that is why it features so prominently in the book. One thought I would share that relates to the champion’s mindset is that if you reach a path that splits… always take the harder route. This will serve to make you stronger. In a running context this would mean electing to enter a race with a tough hilly course to test yourself rather than playing safe with the same flat as a pancake event you run every year.


Rundamentalists thought

There is definitely a trend for runners
looking to challenge themselves with
new events like, Mudders, Ultras and Trail


Q: Rundamentalists
Are you working on another book?

A: Jim Afremow
My next venture is to look at the themes of the Champion’s Mind applied to other aspects of our lives…. For example relationships and careers. The working title is The Champion’s Life… this space.

Q: Rundamentalists
Any final thoughts you can share?

A: Jim Afremow
If you don’t feel up for your early morning run and just want to roll over and go back to sleep - think how proud you will feel after completing the workout…. Work backwards from there and just: Show Up!

Also try to avoid ‘interference’ – I have concerns about the value of expensive gadgets for example GPS watches that runners seem to be increasingly relying on it. This clearly goes against the concept we discussed of thinking less and letting it flow. In the zone…you become the performance.

Always be vitally engaged in every aspect of your life - remember you are always worth the time it takes to run and do the other things you find enjoyable and meaningful.

The legs are ready – is the mind? The return on investment for mental training is huge - undoubtedly your brain is your most important piece of equipment (not your GPS watch or latest running shoes). Train it and trust it. Thinking like a champion will help you to reach your true and full potential!"

"If you don’t feel up for your early morning run and just want to roll over and go back to sleep - think how proud you will feel after completing the workout."

Jim Afremow, Ph.D.


If you missed the earlier interviews with Jim you can catch up on Episode 1 and Episode 2 here

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