What The Inner Game of Tennis Can Teach Runners – 30 Minute Runner

30 Minute Runner

I followed my advice in my prior post and took Friday off. I just want to make sure that my knee is going to be healthy enough to handle the rest of the 30 Minute Runner project.

My day off was a good chance for me to reflect on my progress since my 5k race in the first chapter of the 30 Minute Runner project and look forward to future. Now that I’m back into the routine of training for a race, I am reminded of many of the insights that I gained during my high school and college running days.

Believe it or not, one of the most important influences on my running career has been a book called The Inner Game of Tennis. That’s right – a book about tennis has taught me more about running than most running books.

The Inner Game of Tennis

Why The Inner Game of Tennis is So Important

To understand why this book has been such a great influence, you need to know something about me: I have not always had the best mental strength as a runner.

Throughout my high school and college days I would occasionally have a tough time keeping my emotions in check during races.  Once something unexpected happened, I would immediately tense up, shorten my breaths, and destroy any chance that I had at a good race.

It didn’t take much to get me to start thinking negatively about my race.  Things that would cause me to freak out included feeling more tired than I expected, being farther back in the race than I envisioned, or getting shoved or elbowed by a fellow runner.

Once the inner negativity started, I was in big trouble. My negative thoughts included: “Why am I feeling so terrible today?” “I must have trained too hard last week.”  ”There is no way I can catch the leaders.”  This self-talk was toxic and just built on itself during races.

This is where The Inner Game of Tennis comes in.

The book is loaded with awesome mental tips for athletes, but one of my favorite is the need for an athlete to ensure harmony between “Self 1″ and “Self 2.”

The Relationship Between Self 1 and Self 2

The book defines a person’s “Self 1″ as the person’s conscious self.  This is the side of a person that engages in negative self-talk.  For example, Self 1 was talking when I told myself that I “felt terrible” in a race.

Self 2 is the unconscious, physical side of a person.  Self 2 is the part of runner that actually performs the physical tasks of moving the legs and arms to propel the runner forward.  Self 2 is often highly trained and ready to help the person run fast – however, it is often sabotaged by Self 1.

Self 1′s constant stream of doubt and negative comments can deprive Self 2 of its innate ability to perform well. The key for runners is to quite the over-thinking Self 1 and simply let Self 2 execute the physical movements that will enable a runner to run to his or her capabilities.

How to Improve the Relationship Between Self 1 and Self 2

The Inner Game of Tennis is filled with useful tips on how to quite Self 1 and allow Self 2 to perform its innate ability.  I won’t go into everything in this specific post, but one of the most important tips is for a runner to simply trust that he or she has the ability to run fast.

If a runner has firm confidence in the runner’s skills, Self 1 will not be so quick to cast judgments and negative thoughts.  One of the best ways to build this confidence is to perform well in workouts leading up to a race.

You clearly are fit if you hit your goal times for workouts, so you should have plenty of confidence that you are physically able to perform well in a race.

There is no need for any input from Self 1 – Self 2 has all the fitness that is needed to race well and Self 1′s only job should be to let go and let Self 2 do its job.

More to Come About The Inner Game of Tennis

So as you can tell, I’m a big fan of this type of thinking.  The biggest hurdle for my running career has been lack of confidence and self-doubt.  Things really started improving for me when I applied some of the principles in The Inner Game of Tennis.

I’ll talk more about the book in future posts.  But first I have the next 10-20-30 workout coming up. Wish me luck.

Have you struggled with your mental toughness in races and workouts?

What helped you?


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