Mental Training for Runners - Jeff Galloway - ebook

Mental Training for Runners ebook

Jeff Galloway



"I don't have time to run." "The run will hurt or make me tired." "I don't have my running shoes with me." "I've got too much work to do." If you're always looking for any excuse to not go running, this book is for you! Whether you're an athlete or just want to stay fit and exercise, you need to train your mind just as much as you train your body! It's easy to find excuses and stay at home, but with Jeff Galloway's mental training strategies you will find yourself staying motivated and setting and reaching new goals in no time. Jeff will help you break down your challenges into smaller steps so your next goal seems more achievable. You will learn to overcome each challenge and problem and reduce stress. You will be able to go out for your run even on tough days, after an injury or illness, or when your running buddy isn't around. In the end, you will break through barriers and stay in control and at the top. In this book, you will find many useful tips on how to deal with stress. Jeff describes typical everyday situations and how to go out and run even if your brain is making up excuses; he explains drills to help you rehearse a good response to those excuses so that over time you will change your habits; he presents training tools that will lower your stress and help you learn to set realistic goals. In addition, Jeff posits that in order to stay motivated, it is important to have good running technique. A section on better technique will help you run better and achieve your next goal. Finally, Jeff shows how using a journal can benefit your exercise regime and assist you in keeping track of your progress and the highs and lows of your training schedules. Mental Training for Runners will put you on the path to a positive mental environment and will turn your mind, body, and spirit into a powerful team and tool. After reading and learning from this book, there will only ever be one answer to any challenge: "I can do it!"

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Jeff Galloway

Mental Training for Runners

No More Excuses!

Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.


The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.


Your Inner Strength—Believe In It!

You have within yourself the power to overcome low motivation on the lowest energy days and the power to keep going when there are challenges. By using the proven strategies in this book you can also make permanent nutrition changes, manage stress, and maintain control over fatigue and injury.

You’ll also learn how neuroscientists have found that distance running stimulates the growth of new brain cells and improves thinking and learning at any age. Even after a few running steps, brain circuits are turned on for a better attitude, more vitality, and personal empowerment.

We now have proof that running transforms the brain in many positive ways. Revolutionary research begun in the 1990s, made possible by new technology, identified the brain circuits that are turned on when we run. These circuits trigger the release of brain hormones that balance emotions, enhance problem solving, and help us to make better decisions.

With the help of my wife Barbara, who wrote the foreword to this book, I’ve discovered nuggets of research that explain why some runners stay motivated and some do not, why some perform well and others do not, and why some enjoy their training and others take it like medicine. Leading researchers you will read about in this book are the following:

Neuroscientist John Ratey, MD, in his breakthrough book Spark, explains how exercise activates key circuits and stimulates brain hormones that grow brain cells and improve mental function.

Scientists Candace Pert, PhD, and Bruce Lipton, PhD, explain the biological and molecular changes that allow us to control our emotions and reformat negative behavior patterns in the subconscious.

John Sarno, MD, has shown that stress can trigger negative hormones and a pain response—with management techniques.

Robert Portman, PhD, and John Ivy, PhD, detail the brain circuits involved in eating behaviors with ways of gaining control.

For four decades, I’ve been researching, trying motivational strategies, tabulating results, and learning from experience. The ideas inside are the latest evolution of a method that has been practiced successfully by thousands. I offer these as one runner to another based upon the success of my clients. As always, seek medical advice for health issues from those who specialize in the area of your issue—especially someone who wants to find a way for you to continue running.

You can do it!

Jeff Galloway


To Be Happy, Joyous, and Confident

By Barbara Galloway

When Jeff told me that he was writing a book on motivation, my first thought was, “for what do you want to be motivated?” Most runners have several or several dozen reasons to be and stay motivated. For me, the answer is in the title of this preface. I want to be happy, joyous, and confident.

The late Dr. George Sheehan, cardiologist, philosopher, and Runner’s World columnist often quoted Emerson who told us to “Be first a good animal.” There is a lot of satisfaction when we follow our most natural patterns of exertion—to move, walk, and run. At a fast pace there are more aches, pains, and fatigue. But when you choose a relaxing pace, with the right balance of running and walking, you can be a good, happy, and joyous animal.

I believe Emerson was telling us that we have within ourselves all that we need for happiness. By using our body regularly, which engages our mind and spirit, we improve quality and longevity. Positive things happen when we are first and foremost good, active animals.

For many years, this has been my ultimate motivation. But, like many experiences in life, running begs us to dig deeper. I have made it a mission to search for ideas that can enhance motivation to exercise and to share these with Jeff. The ideas presented in this book have enriched our running experiences, and I hope that you will experience similar benefits.

I’m not going to stop looking and reading. There are so many great ideas, experiences, and opportunities out there. 

Get motivated, stay motivated.

Barbara Galloway


Taking the Puking Out of Running—My story

At the age of 13, I was a very overweight, lazy kid. I wasn’t proud of being fat, and I realized that exercise could be a key to losing my extra baggage. But in my internal priority list, rated above being lean was the avoidance of exercise. I now know that I had programmed myself to believe that it hurt because of some puking incidents after being pushed too hard by a PE coach who wanted to help me get in shape.

Then I enrolled in a school that required male students to engage in strenuous activities or sports after school. Generally, I’m not a fan of forcing kids to exercise, but it worked for me because of the spontaneous fun that emerged from almost every run with the cross-country team. The head coach, Paul Koshewa, was the most lenient in the school and allowed us “options.” I initially joined a group of lazy kids who would jog 200 yards to the woods and goof off.

But one day, an older kid who I liked said, “Galloway, you’re coming with us today.” My anxiety soared because these kids actually ran long distances—3 miles! I had my lazy boy strategy in place: When I reached the protective cover of the woods I would grab my leg, claim I was injured, and throw rocks in the creek as they ran on. But the runners started telling jokes and then gossip about the teachers. I listened at first, huffing and puffing. With a little more fitness I began to participate in the conversations. We shared stories, argued, and more than anything else, enjoyed the fun environment that we created each day.

Within 10 weeks I was hooked on the endorphin experience, and over half a century later, I still am. My grades significantly improved. I discovered that even when things had not been going well at school or personally, the workout with my group turned my attitude around. The bonding resulted in honest friendships based upon mutual respect that have lasted to this day.

But there was something more powerful about the running experience that pulled me out on the roads and trails by myself when the school year ended. The same force was at work years later when my Navy ship pulled into port after three weeks at sea, and I found myself wanting to run before I did anything else. Regardless of how tired or stressed I felt before, I received a boost to mind body and spirit afterward which was life-changing.

After years of study, I came to believe that as the frontal lobe of the brain evolved to give us judgement and perspective, humans have been searching for meaning in life. When we perform certain positive activities, we stimulate brain circuits that trigger biological changes at the cellular level. Brain hormones are also released that change the brain in many positive ways. The bottom line is that after a run we feel good about ourselves and about the quality of our life.

Many are drawn to running because of these powerful and unique rewards. Without the right tools, however, many push too hard, and break something, burn out, even puke like I did. The common and mistaken assumption is that they are not designed to run. I have spent my life finding solutions to problems experienced by hundreds of thousands of runners.

I’ve discovered that for each challenge there is a cognitive strategy that can allow almost every person to take charge over their plan of action, their mental attitude, and their motivation. A new world opens up for those who have a proven strategy. They become the captains of their ships, navigating challenges, experiencing empowerment, and learning along the way.

So get out there and run!


Strategies that activate the brain’s control center—Overriding the “monkey brain”

Those who have a proven strategy tend to be more successful than those who don’t. They also tend to stay motivated, don’t give up, work out more often, and enjoy more of their runs. Strategies activate the conscious brain—the executive brain—which allows one to manage attitude as the running experience is managed.

The simple strategies in this book can keep you under the control of the conscious brain as you plan your workouts, focus on mantras, and follow the schedule. You are in the command center, the captain of your ship, maintaining control of your thoughts and actions. You will also find similar strategies for nutrition and staying injury free.

But there is another brain component we often use by default which—under stress–can lower motivation and cause us to lose our focus. This is our ancient subconscious brain, which I will call the monkey, or reflex brain. This original brain evolved over tens of millions of years and contains thousands of stimulus-response (reflex) behavior patterns.

The reflex brain has a million times the processing capacity compared with the conscious brain. So we rely on it to conduct most of the activities that keep us alive (heart and lung function, blood flow, etc.). In addition, this amazing brain subconsciously interprets hormone signals from various organs and body parts and triggers the release of hormones to correct problems in organ function and to promote healing.

The ancient brain will also take control over habitual activities that we have learned. During the first few times we ride a bicycle, for example, the human brain consciously (and awkwardly at first) drives the body through a series of actions as we fall down and learn to correct mistakes. By repeating the successful behavior patterns regularly, reflex patterns are established, and riding the bicycle becomes more and more automatic. Once a behavior has been learned it is hardwired into the reflex brain, allowing us to pedal down the road subconsciously while the conscious brain solves problems or philosophizes.

But we have another operating system in our mental structure: the conscious brain, in our frontal lobe. This uniquely human brain is a more recent development (only a few million years in the making) and allows us to gain conscious control over a situation. The conscious brain is left free and ready to solve more serious problems, avoid threats, and take action. The circuits that tend to be in the left side of the frontal lobe conduct logical transactions. The right side is the intuitive and creative action center, connecting us to hidden strengths and innovative solutions which are often unexpected.

The natural tendency when we do something that is habitual is to allow the monkey brain to be in charge. For example, once we have learned how to run and have established a routine route with a regular workout pattern, the subconscious brain usually takes over as we start down the road or trail. On many days this is great because the conscious brain can either work out a logical solution in the left side or be entertained and empowered by the right side.

But if we default to the subconscious brain, it will monitor stress—and this can affect motivation. A stress increase greater than normal will stimulate the monkey brain to release anxiety hormones so that you are not so sure about getting out the door, doing the workout you planned, or going the full distance.

As stress increases from heat, cold, precipitation, pace desired, fatigue, goal for the season, or aches and pains, the reflex brain goes into protection mode, and negative attitude hormones are triggered which greatly reduce your motivation to go on and can make you downright miserable. If no conscious action is taken, the monkey brain will reduce blood flow to the digestive system, waste removal system, immune system, and frontal lobe.

The second way that the reflex brain tries to shut you down when under stress is by a condition called tension myositis syndrome (TMS). When the monkey brain becomes overloaded with stress, it subconsciously controls a reduction in blood flow to areas that have been damaged. The resulting pain is much greater than it normally would be for the amount of damage. Many runners have reported to me that their common running injuries have been diagnosed as TMS: plantar fascia, iliotibial band, hamstring, back, knee, neck, etc. When they used the conscious strategies mentioned in this book, the pains went away quite quickly.

You don’t have to eliminate or even reduce stress to stop the negative hormones or TMS pain. By using a cognitive strategy, you will shift control to the frontal lobe. The executive brain overrides the monkey brain. Following the mental training programs in this book will help you gain control over your motivation even when under stress and stay positive by stopping the release of negative hormones, while opening up the blood flow to TMS areas. (Main source is John Sarno, MD, Healing Back Pain, or Mindbody Prescription).

Mental training can also help you access the power of the right brain in the frontal lobe. This can unlock intuitive sources of inner strength, conserve energy, and initiate creative solutions to problems.

Regular mental training will reprogram the reflex brain for any realistic challenge, while also setting up patterns for pushing past barriers, maximizing performance, and even reducing chronic pain. When we are young, we learn many behavior patterns that become embedded into the reflex brain. Some are helpful, and some are counterproductive later in life.

For example, many young runners learn in PE class or in high school sports that they should not walk when they run—that walking is “failure.” This is hardwired in many adults who try to take up running and believe that the only way to be a successful runner is to run continuously. Most will reach a certain distance where they hit a fatigue wall or become injured because of this compulsion to run continuously. They feel like failures because they believed in some counterproductive subconscious programming.

But every year, thousands of former non-stop runners reprogram the reflex brain after reading one of my books; attending one of my retreats, schools, or clinics; or joining one of our training groups. The logical reasons for taking strategic walk breaks activate the frontal lobe. Through the reinforcement of the members of a Galloway group or my instruction, they do it. The rewards of endorphins and a positive attitude boost allow them to push through the former wall, recover quickly, and often record faster times. A vibrating timer helps to reinforce the run walk run behavior into a successful pattern, and it becomes hardwired. I hear from dozens of former non-stop runners who used to feel they were a “failure” by taking walk breaks but who now cross the finish line of a marathon, half marathon, 10K, or 5K with the most wonderful feeling of accomplishment experienced in their lives and often with faster times. The reprogramming is complete!

The actions of 1) taking charge over the reflex brain, 2) believing in the method, and 3) performing the mostly gentle training of mind and body will activate the positive attitude circuits and stimulate positive mental hormones.

Note: To access strategies for activating the frontal lobe and leaving the monkey brain behind, skip to the chapter, Mental Training Strategies. The chapter, Your Motivation Training Plan, offers a step-by-step method with tools to stay on a cognitive track and practical tips for specific situations.


Running stimulates the brain in many positive ways. The best resource I’ve found is Spark, written by Dr. John Ratey. He and other neuroscientists have found that exercise turns on your brain in many positive ways.

Brain circuits are turned on for a better attitude, more vitality, and personal empowerment than any other activity.

Regular runs stimulate new brain cell growth at any age.

There is quicker problem-solving after a run.

Better decisions are made after a run.

Learning is enhanced after a run.

Running stimulates hormones that balance emotions.

The executive brain is turned on for better mental focus.

Energy is the top priority for the human organism. Our human brains developed over several million years to solve problems during the search for food. Starting a run in prehistoric times turned on the circuits to increase the chance of finding food. It is believed that when on a food-gathering mission, the memory circuits were turned on and increased to remember how to find the food, how to find routes to avoid predators, and, most important of all, how to find the way back.

Anthropologists believe that during the period 2 million to 1 million years ago humans were forced to expand their migration range to find food. This was also the period in which our ancestors started moving mostly on two feet (instead of four) and started traveling in groups. All of these challenges greatly expanded their brains.

During the long-distance treks, human traits of trust, cooperation, and mutual care developed.

Running was probably the first form of two-footed locomotion—but was not used often because valuable energy resources were consumed rapidly. Remember that the most common cause of death was starvation, and walking allowed humankind to cover great distance with minimal use of fuel.

But when our ancestors ran, it was usually because of a threat—escaping a predator or jumping over a snake. This stimulated all mind–body systems to work at top capacity.


Your mind–body information network sends messages in seconds that control your motivation

Located in the frontal lobe of your brain is the command center that assigns priorities, allocates resources, and gives direction to cognitive mental activity. Learning, decision-making, and judgement are delegated to the hippocampus area where brain chemicals are stimulated to make important connections and hardwire neurons into successful learned patterns.

At any moment in time, you have a continuous flow of information from billions of cells throughout your body and mind. The signals they send can determine negative or positive reactions in your brain and throughout your body, stimulating the production of attitude-changing hormones that determine how motivated you will feel. By using cognitive strategies to plan your workouts and running regularly, you can exert a great deal of control over what signals are sent—whether the brain hormones are positive or not.

Candace Pert, PhD, in her informative book, Molecules of Emotion, explains how the brain is “extremely well connected” to the rest of the body at a molecular level, “so much so that the term mobile brain is an apt description of the psychosomatic network through which intelligent information travels from one system to another.”[1]

Secretions of hormones are constantly being produced due to current mental and physical conditions. Pert says that current feelings and beliefs will determine which of these peptide secretions are made. These substances lock onto the receptor molecules on the outer edge of most cells, sending information, giving directions, and significantly affecting our motivation and energy level.

Receptor sites receive information from the outside environment “with information substances such as hormones, antigens, drugs, peptides or neurotransmitters. The information processing occurs at the receptor where the signal to the cell can be modulated by the action of other receptors, the physiology of the cell and even past events and memories of them.”[2]

“Peptides (hormones) serve to weave the body’s organs and systems into a single web that reacts to both internal and external environmental changes with complex subtly orchestrated responses.”[3]

So the old concept that the mind is separate from the body is not correct, according to the research.

Here is what molecular biologist Bruce Lipton says about this approach:

“This new perspective on human biology does not view the body as just a mechanical device, but incorporates the role of mind and spirit. This breakthrough in the science of biology is fundamental to healing for it shows us that when we change our perceptions or beliefs we send totally different messages to our cells. In effect, we reprogram them. This new biology reveals why people can have spontaneous remissions or recover from injuries thought to be permanent disabilities.”[4]

For more than three decades, I have believed and written that running brings together body, mind, and spirit better than any other activity I have researched or experienced. John Raty, MD, Candace Pert, PhD, Bruce Lipton, PhD, and John Sarno, MD, have analyzed the internal connections throughout our organism and have helped me understand the biological and mental framework which can be used to boost our motivation and tap into our potential.

Here’s how Candace Pert explains why we feel so good after “playing” (such as during a good run): “When we are playing, we are stretching our emotional expressive ranges, loosening up our biochemical flow of information, getting unstuck, and healing our feelings”[5]

The mind is a very powerful network of information transmitters embedded throughout the body, connecting most cells. Conscious mental-training techniques can harness this powerful system by sending positive messages. These actions stimulate positive secretions which can change attitude within a few moments.


Stress stimulates the reflex brain to trigger a series of subconscious actions that result in low motivation, burnout, pain, and loss of focus

When you allow the monkey brain to be in charge during your run, this reflex brain monitors total stress throughout your mind–body network. When it senses it’s “too high,” the reflex brain shifts into “protection mode,” triggering a series of reactions to reduce motivation—sending negative messages, stimulating secretion of negative mood hormones, and reducing blood flow to damaged areas. Under severe stress the monkey brain will reduce blood flow to the conscious brain, digestive tract, and immune system.

Because blood flow is reduced to the gut, the brain’s energy source, blood glucose, is reduced.Lower blood flow and lower fuel supply reduce the conscious brain’s ability to take command, allowing the subconscious brain to remain in control.

Stress hormones are subconsciously triggered, and these lock onto receptor molecules. Negative attitude messages are sent and received between the mind and body within a few minutes. If you don’t activate the executive brain, the reflex brain will trigger a series of actions to lower motivation and increase doubt and misery.

Pain! Many of your aches and pains may be the result of stress. The overstressed subconscious reflex brain knows the location of current injuries and other damage because it is constantly receiving this information from areas all over the body. As the overall stress load increases (even due to anticipating a hard or tiring workout), the reflex brain will subconsciously reduce blood flow to these areas. This results in pain that would normally not be felt (or would be minimal and manageable without the reduction in blood flow). Dr. John Sarno covers this condition, tension myositis syndrome (TMS) in his books The Mindbody Prescription[6]and Healing Back Pain. I highly recommend them.

Later in this book you will learn how you can turn your attitude around by taking conscious control, adjusting to realistic goals, setting up several different plans of action, believing in the plans and staying positive. You’ll also learn how the mind-body can keep you going while managing stress.


Pressure is generated by perceived expectations. We know that our boss, our spouse, our parents, or children each have expectations of various types. Most of this is not communicated, which is too bad. Things get more interesting as we interact with the key people in our lives and encounter conflicting expectations. In many cases, the expectations exceed what we can deliver currently (or ever). Self-perceived pressure can produce the greatest stress for most of the runners with whom I’ve worked. Those who have perfectionist tendencies accumulate the most pressure. In any case, sustained pressure is a major source of stress. But there is hope.

Sources of stress

Goal stress—Goals can motivate us to run when we might otherwise sleep in and motivate us to push harder when we don’t feel like doing so. But on the tough days, we often sense pressure from a looming goal and deadline. Choosing goals that are not realistic is a very common source of pressure—and will make every aspect of the journey more stressful.

Workout stress—Extending the distance of long runs results in greater fatigue at the end. Heat increases this stress. Speed training offers an additional set of challenges. All of these can be managed, but the stress load will increase during the training and trigger low motivation hormones and other protection responses. Good news: In this book you’ll find coping strategies for each of these sources.

“Exceeding our speed limit” stress—We usually feel really good at the beginning of the workout, too good. The increased pace or extended distance or reduced run walk run ratio produces a gradual fatigue build-up that is often denied until the muscles are spent. This dramatically increases lingering soreness and muscle weakness for days afterward, which add to the stress load.

Lingering fatigue—When we push past endurance or speed limits by increasing physical workload, most of the fatigue is erased during the rest day after workouts. When the workload is too hard for current ability or not enough rest was allowed, some body parts have pockets of lingering damage. The subconscious brain targets these areas for blood flow restriction when stress is too high (see the TMS section in the glossary).

Other sources of stress and pressure

Primitive genetic programming—These are survival reflexes that were appropriate for hunter-gathers or cavemen, but not for us. An example is anger management issues.

Negative learning—We can learn negative behavior patterns in childhood when we imitated parents, teachers, or coaches who simply did not know the correct methods or concepts (or didn’t know they were being imitated). Even when we learn that these early lessons were not logical or right, the childhood programming will trigger anxieties when we embark on a positive method that is in conflict as long as we allow the monkey brain to control our run.

Unresolved issues from childhood or adolescence—These can be very commonly the result of anger and rage during early development from neglect, lack of love and caring, unresolved disputes, no respect, being told that one is a failure, etc.

Current stress from job, family, or other—Most commonly these revolve around continuing life conflict situations that you cannot control. Some examples are the following: You have to work for a boss who makes bad decisions; you and your spouse disagree about some family issue; you want to give your kids some form of freedom, but they are acting suspiciously.

Note: You don’t have to eliminate the stress or pressure to get motivated. You need to mentally focus on a realistic plan to shift the control center to the conscious, human brain..


The negative effects of stress and pressure are only a problem if we let the subconscious monkey brain be in charge. To reach our potential for running enjoyment while also maintaining motivation at a high level, we must have a cognitive strategy to deal with the situation. Each positive step you take will empower your conscious brain to take control away from the subconscious.

You don’t have to eliminate the stress to be motivated, but you must acknowledge it. Honesty is the best policy, and denial results in more stress later.

You must acknowledge that stress is causing the pain and loss of motivation or mental focus. Until you take conscious action to be aware of what is going on, the subconscious brain will control the situation, causing it to become more negative. Just a statement to yourself (“I am under stress and I’m going to deal with it”) is the first step that will engage the conscious frontal lobe to take control over subconscious reflex thoughts and actions.