Dr. Noel Brick on How to Think When Running Gets Difficult

Runners understand the need to develop physical stamina to run workouts and races, but often underestimate the importance of training their brains. Learning to use a variety of mental techniques can help improve running economy and make hard efforts feel less taxing.

This week’s podcast guest is Dr. Noel Brick, a lecturer and researcher in sport and exercise physiology who focuses on attentional focus and cognitive strategies in endurance performance.

Even if you’re not familiar with Dr. Brick you’re likely to know an athlete he has had an impact on: Eliud Kipchoge. Kipchoge is known for his serene smile in the most grueling moments of the marathon, a technique to reduce the perception of effort that Dr. Brick discovered.

In addition to his research, Dr. Brick is the co-author of The Genius of Athletes and an accomplished endurance athlete.  He has run more than 30 marathons and ultra-marathons, including the Marathon des Sables and the Irish 24-hour Championships.

Previous research has examined the idea of associative and dissociative focus as techniques during harder running efforts. At its simplest, dissociative focus uses techniques that distract you from the effort at hand, like listening to music. Associative focus involves looking inward, paying attention to feedback from your body based on your breathing, stride, and form, amongst others.  

Dr. Noel Brick on Attentional Focus

In our discussion, Dr. Brick explains the more nuanced concept of “attentional focus” and how it can be used in training for endurance events. Attentional focus uses a combination of techniques depending on the moment-by-moment needs of a competitor, including internal sensory monitoring, an external focus on crowds and scenery, and distractive techniques entirely unrelated to the run itself.

As both a researcher and an athlete, Dr. Brick explains the science behind attentional focus as well as practical ways to implement strategies into your own training and racing.

For even more of these strategies, sign up for our free ecourse on building mental skills for running.

Some of the topics we dive into include:

  • The differences in thinking between competitive and recreational runners
  • The pros and cons of racing with a GPS watch
  • Why using a pacesetter in a race may benefit you
  • The value of self-talk and using the strategy of “chunking”
  • The importance of developing a personalized toolkit with a range of strategies

Our thinking has an enormous impact on our performance.  Whether you’re a new runner or an elite, you can learn more about the stories you tell yourself to have a positive impact on your training and racing.  Enjoy my fascinating discussion with Dr. Noel Brick!

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