Friday, February 24, 2006


How does Sasha Cohen fall on her FIRST jump last night? Tell me that's not mental.


Evan said...

Ok, it's not mental :)

miler said...

My skeptical side tells me that you need to compare against the "null hypothesis" that falls are in fact randomly placed (and you only notice the ones that occur on the first jump)

robtherunner said...

She's Hot! Does it matter? Oh yeah, did I mention she's Hot?

Susan said...

Ha ha ha. You're right - it's mental . . . and Rob's a geek.

BuckeyeRunner said...

She had a few falls in the practice about 5 minutes before - enough to shake you up and plant a seed of doubt that may not have been there before.

Bart said...

The mental aspect is certainly a consideration. I didn't watch a lot of figure skating (and only saw Emily Hughes's and a Turkish skater's long program), but during the short program I remember Dick Button commenting on how some skaters start with an easier jump to settle down before moving to the more difficult jumps.

Evan said...

These posts about mental stuff have been interesting, and you've certainly got a good discussion going.

Since miler has already gotten philisophical on you, I'd add that we'll never know. These things are basically unknowable. I mean, you (or Bob Costas ...) could ask her, and she will try to explain it, but really it's impossible to know what caused one specific fall.

You do have me wondering about the importance of mental approach to running success. As with the training it's a case of diminishing returns to the time you put into it. Moreover, whereas a lot of physical training ideas have been validated scientifically, the mental stuff is harder to evaluate the effects of. There's far less evidence about the worth of mental training. To put it quite bluntly, some of the people saying there's a big effect of mental training are just trying to sell us their books.

Look at Noakes' Lore of Running. Noakes' is very sympathetic to the importance of mental state in running success, but his chapter on "Training the Mind" is quite different from the others. There are very few citations to studies that have evaluated various mental training techniques. By contrast, the chapters on physical training techniques are dense with citations establishing relatively precise effects.

Visualization of the race, learning to keep concentration and focus for a long time, and positively evaluating ones abilities are clearly important. Beyond those basics I'm skeptical. Just applying those basic ideas will take most of us most of the way. But largely you should be able to incorporate them into your existing physical training schedule.

Take, for example, practicing running at goal pace (whether that's 1000m repeats at 5km pace, or 10 miles at marathon pace). That's a workout with huge physical benefits, but you can incorporate a lot of your mental training into that workout. For example, by successfully completing the workout you reinforce that you have a realistic goal, and during the workout you work on concentration. You also learn what the same pace feels like at different levels of fatigue which helps with realistic visualization.

My concluding comments are that I don't think you can separate the mental and the physical (though it's a useful distinction), and that while I have worked on mental aspects of my own running a lot during the last year this is the most I've thought about it while not running. Which is totally different than the 'physical' aspects of training (how many miles next week? shall I do strides tomorrow), which I do think about it quite often when not running.

Evan said...

postscript to the previous one.

It's tremendously difficult to really evaluate the effect of any training method on performance. Take the example of Zeke's 3k and 5k PRs after reading The Competitive Runner. It's possible that the mental stuff was important, but it could be that he reacted more slowly to the cumulative physical effects of the training. And we'll never really know, since it's one thing happening to one person.

The gold standard for establishing the effect of a variable upon performance is an experiment or trial where you can limit the variation in training to the thing you're studying.

Specifically, you might divide people up into a group that did 'mental training' and a group that didn't. There's huge practical difficulties to doing any kind of long-term experiments like that in distance running. So large, that Jack Daniels says (on the Lydiard vs. Daniels thread on letsrun) that you couldn't do it for most variables that we're interested in measuring in running training.

Who, for example, is going to volunteer to be in a study where they might get randomized to not doing VO2 max workouts for a season so we can see how important they really are?

On a different point, the issue that elite athletes attribute 80-90% of their success to mental attributes. It's interesting, and it probably is true that what we regard as mental aspects of the sport (focus, concentration, visualization, positive attitude) may well account for a lot of the difference between winning and losing a championship race between two physiologically gifted and well-trained people.

But that might only be 80-90% of the marginal two seconds, which is trivial in ths scheme of things. Mental aspects do not account for 80-90% of the 3:11 difference between my 5000 PR and Bob Kennedy's.

robtherunner said...

All I got is... she's hot so who cares?

Paul said...

She heard that you said she looked like an elf. That just screwed her mind up beyond repair.

Chad Austin said...

Miler, I knew I should have paid more attention in math class when we were talking about the null hypothesis.

Rob, it's not up to me, but you can have her.

Evan, lots of good points. You mentioned visualization, concentration and the ability to positively evaluate your performance. I agree those are the basics, along with relaxation, but how many people pay any attention to this stuff?

I agree with the number of variables involved. Now if I run well this year how much can I attribute to my physical training and how much to my mental training? Both are being drastically overhauled. I guess in the end I don't really care as long as the results are there.

Of course you can be the most mentally tough runner in the world, but it's not going to help you overcome your god-given limitations. However, I bet there's been a race or two that haven't gone as you expected and you're mind has been flooded with negative thoughts. I bet if you could have focused on the positive, rather than the negative, you'd have run a much better race.

Paul, I guess Sasha should have been reading Rob's blog, not mine.

Evan said...

In which it turns out we're not really disagreeing about much

Yes, I've had enough races where I've got to that point where you meet your own dedication (typically about 2/3 of the way through most races), and let it slide, as well as enough races where I've pushed through and seen the value of staying positive and focused to know that, keeping positive and not giving up might be worth 30 seconds over 10km. Not too trivial.

However, I do think that those situations arise more often in races for which we haven't prepared specifically enough. Why is 6-8 x 1000m such a great 5km workout? Why are Daniels' type tempo-long-tempo runs such great marathon workouts? Because they simulate both the mental and physical challenges you're going to meet in the race, and let you learn how to meet them.

Race-specific workouts are hugely important in integrating our mental and physical training to the point where that distinction erodes.

miler said...

Something I'd like to add to Evan's observation -- I think being properly tapered adds a lot to "mental" preparation. Being mentally burned out vs being mentally fresh does have a physiological component. The rush of excitement during a race and the relative immunity to pain does have a biochemical basis. We may attribute it to psychology or mental training that we can give that 200% at the end of the race, but it may be the case that even this mental state has much more to do with being fresh so that adreneline, endorphins, etc can work their natural magic when it counts, than it does with "visualisation".