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3 Apps That Help Runners Stay Mentally Strong

Training your brain is just as important as training your body.

Whether you’re preparing for a first marathon or a faster 5k, runners have a tendency to focus solely on the nitty gritty details of a training plan. How far should my long run be this week? How fast should I run my 400m repeats? These are important considerations, but focusing on why we train should not be overlooked. Mental skills are equally as important as the physical side of training. These abilities must be learned and practiced in order to maximize athletic potential.

The practice of mindfulness isn’t a new concept, but it has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years. A conscious approach to better sport performance is comprised of a combination of mindfulness exercises and acceptance techniques. The practice is designed to enhance athletic goals and general psychological well-being. Traditional forms of sports psychology emphasize controlling thoughts and feelings while eliminating distress. Mindfulness approaches aim to enhance performance through the promotion of a non-judgmental, present-moment awareness and acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotion.

There’s ongoing research to determine how effective this approach is. Some people find the thought of meditation a little too new age-y. There are no guarantees that it will lead to personal bests. But for those wanting to give it a try, a number of smartphone applications are available to help learn the concepts and provide guidance.

Smiling Mind, Free

The creators of Smiling Mind are an Australian not-for-profit company who hope to “see mindfulness meditation on the Australian National Curriculum.” Along with programs to teach mindfulness meditation to children, the Smiling Mind app has 12 sport-focused sessions that were developed in partnership with Cricket Australia.

Since it’s free, the Smiling Mind app is a great place for beginners to try mindfulness meditation. The sport-specific offerings are limited. However the app is well-designed, easy to navigate and provides a large number of other mindfulness sessions.

Calm, $12.99/month or $60/year

Sleep is a vital part of an athlete’s recovery. While Calm lacks a sports-centric mindfulness focus, the app does include a section called Sleep Story. A narrator tells a story in a peaceful tone to help those struggling to power down at the end of the day.

For those without sleep issues, the app includes a solid “learn the basics” module. The guided and unguided sessions can be applied to sport situation, even if the app doesn’t have an athletic section.

Headspace, $12.95/month or $106/year

If you’re looking for the app with the largest collection of sport-centric content (80 different sessions over eight different topics) and don’t mind paying, then Headspace is the best choice. Modules covered by Headspace include motivation, focus, training, competition, communication, analysis, recovery and rehab.

Another strength of Headspace is the method by which the app explains mindfulness. Animated videos provide a visual explanation of the terminology and techniques. These assist in making mindfulness easier to understand and practice.