Psychology: running motivation

As part of the National Running Show we hosted a special VIP session for our Run Leaders to come and take part in interactive discussion sessions with experts in the fields of Psychology, Nutrition and Strength & Conditioning. Experts that shared their knowledge and insight, to help our Run Leaders improve their running and further support their runners.

This feature focuses psychology, a session that was facilitated by Saul Shorm and Ben Parry, Sports Psychologists from the University of Birmingham.

The psychology workshop focused on developing tools for Run Leaders to stay motivated through all levels of sessions and overcoming barriers to self-improvement, both mentally and physically.

Whether you’re going from Couch to 5k, or looking to conquer other challenges in your running, we can all appreciate how impactful our minds can be. From practices in sport psychology, we can learn how to engage our mind to enhance our running experience.

But the million-dollar question is: how…?

Mental Skills Training is a framework in sport psychology that gives athletes structure to train their mental skills to enhance motivation, pursuit of goals, and positive coping strategies. However, this approach is not just for elite level athletes, as we can all benefit from expanding our mental skills ‘toolkit’.

Adding to your toolkit

The session brought awareness to three specific mental skills, which can be seen as ‘tools’ to add to our ‘mental toolkit’.

These tools include:

Pre-Performance Routine

PPRs are specific habits that athletes/runners commit to performing before they ‘perform’. Once the action is done, it begins the chain of events that leads to the desired outcome e.g. going for a run. It’s a powerful tool for overcoming barriers to motivation.

Examples of PPRs include:

Whatever the PPR is, the underlying principle behind it is that it’s something that you do consistently, so it becomes automatic that after you do the specific action, you run.

Attentional Control

Attentional control is quite simply being intentional about where we focus our mind’s attention whilst we run. Generally speaking, there are two ways our attention can be directed: inwardly – to the self, or outwardly – to things around us. Neither is right or wrong, but as we become more aware of our attention during a run, we can start to understand how it may be helpful or unhelpful to running performance.

Examples of different forms of attention

  Inward attention Outward attention
  • Focus on breathing: this can help us be more mindful, control our tempo or distract the mind.
  • Self-talk: using positive phrases to encourage yourself and boost confidence, ‘I can do this!’
  • Taking in the setting around you: this may help distract the mind, taking your attention away from how the body is feeling.
  • Times and splits: focusing on your watch, tracking your times and splits, can reinforce self-belief in your ability during a run.
  • Allowing the mind to wander: this may result in disruptions to your tempo or pacing as your focus goes elsewhere.
  • Self-talk: negative self-talk can harm our confidence and self-belief, ‘I can’t do this’.
  • Focusing on others: comparing to others isn’t always helpful, we can become overly competitive and lose a sense of enjoyment.
  • Times and splits: if we just focus on our times, seeing a slower than expected time may knock our confidence.

If you have a runner who finds themselves experiencing negative self-talk during a run, ‘I can’t do this’, challenge them to focus on things around them or even just have a chat with another runner.


We may sometimes face barriers to running, and the barriers can threaten whether we will run, or how we feel about running. Reframing is a mental skill that can change the way we view our thoughts and can bring positivity and opportunity to the way we see things.

Examples of this include:

When completed effectively, reframing allows one to take back ownership of their thoughts.

Important to remember…

These tools will be more effective the more you practice them. Just like a physical skill, we have to practice our mental skills to strengthen them and feel more confident using them.

For Run Leaders

Talk to your runners and learn what might work best for them, as one ‘tool’ doesn’t work for all.


to Ben and Saul for leading the insightful psychology sessions and thanks to our Run Leaders who attended and engaged in great conversation and discussion.