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Mental Performance in Running

It was great to sit down and chat with Jack Hackett of Infinity Run Co to chat about mental performance in running. Below is the transcript of our conversation.

Everyone has heard the phrase that half of running is mental. Yet, we spend almost all of our time focusing solely on the physical in our running workouts, our lifts, and our training schedule. How much time have you actually spent on the other “half” of performance? Have you tried to work on the mental aspects, but... not quite known where to even begin?

To help us all, I’ve turned to an expert: Mike Clark. Mike is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant® (CMPC) who works with all types of high performers--musicians, public speakers, and especially, athletes. Mike was a talented D1 collegiate athlete himself, a distance runner at Mississippi State. He understands those pre-race nerves and mental struggles, and now helps others understand them.

We had a brief starter conversation on a few common runner questions. Let’s get into it!

Jack: Mike, thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions and to help us figure out where to put our mental focus. If an athlete wants to start improving their performance, where should they turn their attention to first?

Mike: Sometimes we know what’s getting in our way, but for some reason we don’t want to confront it. If that’s the case, it comes down to being honest about where you are and what you’re willing to change to improve. This often comes down to awareness. I like to start with bringing awareness to things that keep an athlete going and also find things that are getting in the way of performance. When you have confidence in your strengths and awareness of areas for growth, finding ways to shift attention can become a lot more clear.

Jack: As far as I understand the research, people benefit from positive self-talk. If that’s true, why does that work?

Mike: What you say to yourself matters. A big part of high performance has to do with making the right decisions at the right time, which in distance running often comes down to covering moves, increasing effort to maintain pace, and hanging on. Positive (or even neutral) self-talk acts as fuel for your mind when your body is in pain, whereas negative self-talk is just one more thing that gets in the way.

Jack: For athletes who are so nervous that they are getting sick on race days, what do you typically tell them? Should people try to avoid those feelings, or should they confront them--and how?

Mike: First off, it’s normal to feel nervous on race day - so I might start there. It’s also important to understand that a certain amount of anxiety, or stress, will actually help you perform to your best. I often recommend taking some deep breaths (exhale longer than the inhale) and shifting attention to thoughts that are factual and neutral. Avoiding thinking about the race, the competition, or whatever is stressing you out will only increase the anxiety you feel, so find a way to acknowledge what it is that’s stressing you out. Bonus points if you can surround yourself with people who are supportive and bring an element of fun.

Jack: If people want to learn more about your company and your services, where can they find you?

Mike: If there are questions I can answer or if someone is interested in setting something up, I encourage them to email me at and to check out my website for more information. If social media is more their thing, I’m also on Instagram: @clark_performance and Twitter: @clark_perform.

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