QUIZ (DISTANCE RUNNING): What does your attentional focus type say about your race performance?

If you are a distance runner, it’s quite possible that you are familiar with the question, “What do you focus on during such a long race?” This may be especially true for those of you who run marathons. 26.2 grueling miles’ worth of running, which typically equates to several hours, is more than plenty of time for your mind to really hone in on something—whether that be your running form, your levels of exertion and pain, the people around you, your breathing, or simply the ground in front of you. So it’s only natural for those who do not compete in long-distance races to wonder how you mentally make it through, and just what you could possibly be thinking about that whole time.

Yet, have you ever asked yourself these questions? Do you voluntarily choose where to put your focus during a race, or have you even considered the idea that your decision could have significant effects on your performance? Take the quiz in order to find out if and how you can possibly improve your race results—just in time for this year’s Boston Marathon.

 

1. Where do you put the majority of your focus during a race?

A) Externally: I tend to focus most on my surroundings, e.g., other runners, the scenery, my music, or the crowd and people who are cheering me on –– go to question 2

B) Internally: I tend to focus most on my breathing and/or other immanent factors, e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion –– go to question 3

 

2. Do you believe that having a primarily external focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus on my surroundings makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on internal factors and sensations. –– result: E/E

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from external to internal conditions. –– go to question 4

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

3. Have you ever been told that you should focus on your breathing during a race, did you do so, and did that seem to positively affect your performance?

A) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it helped me. –– go to question 5

B) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it either did nothing in regards to my overall performance or negatively affected it. –– go to question 6

C) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. But I did not actually do so, because it seemed like either it would negatively impact my performance or it would be pointless. –– go to question 6

D) No, I cannot recall having been told to focus on my breathing. –– go to question 6

 

4. In what way do you believe that remaining internally-focused throughout the majority a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by allowing me to monitor and correctly pace myself and/or by allowing me to concentrate on running form and thus decrease chance of injury. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: E/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on form and thereby maximize my running efficiency. –– result: E/I

C) It would help me run a faster time because I can pay more attention to how I am pacing myself. –– result: E/I

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: E/I

 

5. Do you believe that focusing on your breathing throughout a race would always or almost always help you run a faster time?

A) Yes, focusing on breathing while I race is something which has continued and/or can continue to boost my performance. –– result: B/B

B) No, focusing on my breathing was just something which helped me that one time, and I don’t believe that it will (likely) continue to be something which helps me throughout races in the future. –– go to question 6

 

6. Do you believe that having a primarily internal focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus internal makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on external factors. –– result: I/I

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from internal to external conditions. –– go to question 7

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

7. In what way do you believe that remaining externally focused throughout the majority of a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by distracting me. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: I/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on passing/staying ahead of other runners. –– result: I/E

C) It would help me run a faster time because it could help me avoid pain by distracting me, thus allowing me to push myself harder. –– result: I/E

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: I/E

 

Results:

E/E

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. You also do not plan on changing this direction of attentional focus anytime soon. Good news—not only are you right to be focusing on external conditions, but you are also correct in deeming this something which does not need to be changed. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

X

Even though you believe that it doesn’t matter where you put your focus during a race, you took this quiz. So whether it was out of boredom, curiosity, or some sliver of doubt in your belief, you were nonetheless right in doing so. The good news, therefore, is that you are already on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/X

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you have been putting your attention where it is most beneficial to your running economy—so despite being previously unaware that direction of attentional focus could affect your times, you are already in a good habit. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/I

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you are already putting your focus where it will likely maximize your running economy, so there is no need to change. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

B/B

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. Additionally, and as a subtype of these internal conditions, you put intentional focus on your breathing. However, breathing is likely the most sub-optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—at least in terms of running economy, that is. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/I

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/X

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/E

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body—yet you hope to change this. The most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. So good news: you are now on the right track. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

––Kylie Burgess

Premier Sport Psychology, PLLC

 

Reference:
Schücker, L., Hagemann, N., Strauss, B., & Völker, K. (2009). The effect of attentional focus on running economy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(12), 1241-1248. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903150467

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