If you’ve ever had to be evaluated by psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Brown at the finish line medical tent of the Boston Marathon, it’s not because you went crazy out on the course.
Many physical problems a runner can experience, like hyponatremia, present with psychological symptoms first.
If you’re acting a little strange because you drank too much water, are having cramps so severe you want to disassociate yourself from the pain or simply need aid dealing with the disappointment of not being able to finish the race, Dr. Brown may be able to help.
Dr. Brown is responsible for the mental health care of runners at the Boston, Chicago and Houston marathons. He’s also on staff at the Harvard Medical School.
In part one of this interview, Dr. Brown talked about what it’s like to be the official psychologist out on the course. Now, in part two, he discusses the mental aspects of marathon running.
You’ve worked with all types of athletes. Are runners, and specifically marathon runners, any different?
Athletes tend to be very performance oriented, obviously. But, many of the runners I chat with also admit they are obsessive. They like information, new strategies and tend absorb new information. That makes my job very easy and fun.
In your opinion what percentage of running a marathon, and being successful at it, is mental as opposed to physical? Should runners spend time training their brains to complete the task?
Most every runner that I speak with agrees that marathoning is just as mental as it is physical.
From deciding to run, pre-performance routine, self talk, concentration, focus, dissociation, relaxation, goal setting— it’s a series of mental tasks.
I always say that negative thoughts make your shoes heavy. Each runner trains differently, and the mental aspects should be a part of that.
Check here to read Dr. Brown’s “Psychology Today” article about the mental strategies of marathon running.
You also wrote the book, “The Competitive Edge.” How do athletes use your books to improve their race outlook and strategy?
“The Competitive Edge” is a book about protecting integrity. It gives sound cognitive strategies to protect what matters most in a culture where winning-at-all-costs is the norm.
“The Competitive Edge” helps readers first, understand that their integrity and legacy is priceless. Then the book offers other principles that are necessary to use when we find ourselves in the bind of making a decision that reflects personal values.
The book includes stories from many athletes and business people—and certainly from the marathon runners I’ve worked with.
I say early in the book: “If competition were a virus, we’d have an epidemic on our hands.” The bottom line message is that we need to retool to have skills necessary to protect our own legacy. No one else is going to do that for us.
“The Competitive Edge” talks about “personal integrity in the midst of fierce competition.” Compared to other athletes, why do you think elite marathon runners rarely use trash talk?
Great question. From my perspective, trash talk requires two people. The trash talker and the target. My experience tells me that elite runners are very much focused on the improvement of themselves. They know their improvement is based on their effort, not the behaviors or performances of others.
Therefore, when an athlete focuses on their own performance, they have little time for being distracted by what others are doing—let alone time to tear down a competitor. Elite runners are professionals and their reputation usually reflects that.
Check here to learn more about Dr. Brown’s books, “The Competitive Edge,” and “The Winner’s Brain.”