The benefits of a mental radio station


Music impacts your life more than you think. You are bombarded with music all day long when you watch TV, listen to your car stereo, listen to music on your electronics, CDs, cassettes, Sony Walkman, 8 tracks or discs (I’m not judging). Songs can entertain, arouse emotions, provide distraction, pass time, and provide a break from the daily chore. We don’t just listen to music, we experience it.

However, external sound waves are not our only source – songs can be played internally as well. When was the last time you had words stuck in your head? Think of it as your mental radio station. Just repeating a song in your mind or even humming a tune can have a big impact on your emotions and change your physiology. As a result, tuning your mental radio can be beneficial for those of us who travel long miles during running and training.

Pre-race mood regulation

A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology was conducted on tennis players and the use of music to manipulate their emotional state. “Music alters emotional and physiological arousal and can therefore be used before competition or training as a stimulant or as a sedative to calm anxious feelings.” (Bishop et al. 2007)

The ability to foster your optimal mood before a run can be of benefit by going through your mental playlist and finding a particular song to help foster the mood you want to start a run. For example, before a race, ruminating thoughts may cross your mind: “What if I can’t finish the race? “” I haven’t been able to train a lot and I’ve never run this distance before. A song with positive lyrics or a slow tempo can eliminate negative chatter, redirect your thoughts, decrease anxiety, release tension in your muscles, and conserve energy that would be better used for running.

If you’re feeling emotionally flat, sluggish, or fatigued, there’s a good chance your pace will be interrupted at the start of a run. A catchy song with mentally stimulating lyrics will motivate you, lift your spirits, help keep blood flowing through your body, and improve your focus before the event. Identifying your optimal pre-race mood can also help you choose the most effective song from your mental music playlist.

Rhythm control

Internal music can help you set your pace by syncing your stride to the beat of a song. An article in The sports review published in 2020 (Karageorghis and Priest) highlighted an interesting example regarding the relationship between music and rhythm:

“Famous Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie is famous for setting world records for the rhythmic pop song ‘Scatman’. He chose this song because the tempo matched his target stride speed perfectly, a very important consideration for a distance runner whose goal is to establish a steady and efficient cadence.

Matching the running pace to the beats per minute of a song is similar to the concept of sympathetic resonance. Sympathetic resonance occurs when vibrations in one object produce similar vibrations in another object. For example, if you have two pianos nearby in one room, hitting a key on one piano will produce similar vibrations in the other piano.

For a dancer, the tempo of the music gives rhythm to a routine. You can apply the same strategy for your pace. The beat of an internal song can have a beneficial impact on your desired beat. Full synchronization is unlikely, but a faster musical beat can help you pick up your tempo while a slower beat will reduce your beat.

That doesn’t mean you should dig deep into your mind and pull out your vast library of hits from the 1990s or 2000s. Too much focus on internal factors can be a distraction in and of itself. Playing a song in your head is a strategy that can be applied as needed.

Distraction and dissociation

Dissociation involves turning the mind away from the physical sensations of fatigue or discomfort that interfere with ultrarunning. Music can improve performance by redirecting your thoughts from external stimuli (heavy legs, feelings of fatigue) to internal focus (a song in your head).

Many runners have mastered the ability to freely focus between monitoring heart rate, outside course conditions, pace, fatigue and lactate threshold.

Michael Sachs, PhD., Professor Emeritus (Department of Kinesiology) at Temple University and Certified Mental Performance Consultant from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, emphasizes the need for association and dissociation in long-distance races.

“Although if you’re really competing it’s important to focus on the pace / time, but even in a competitive race you can’t team up for hours and hours because ultra races will take. So going from association to dissociation and vice versa will be necessary. “

While you can’t always control how you feel during a run, there are times when you can disassociate yourself from these physical sensations so that your mind and body act in unison.

Internal music is a mental tool that can be used to improve performance, enjoy the race experience, and deal with unique challenges throughout a race. Knowing the effects of different music on your body will help you develop your ultra-running mental playlist.

Reference list

Bishop, DT, Karageorghis, CI, & Loizou, G. (2007). A theory based on the use of music by young tennis players to manipulate the emotional state. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Flight. 29, 584-607.

Karageorghis, C. & Priest, DL (2020). Music in sport and exercise: an update on research and application. La Revue Sportive. Flight. 41, number 2.


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