Demolish The Wall

Psychologist, trainer and coach, Ken Way works with top athletes using the mental training techniques he has developed to help them achieve their goals. But, he tells us, it's not only the elite who can apply these methods to perform at their best.

Forget the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall, the world's biggest barrier is the wall thousands of athletes run into every year when competing in marathons. It's not only the elite who encounter The Wall, almost everyone who takes on a training programme that challenges them will know the feeling of reaching that point when you feel you like you can't continue.  

You start asking yourself, "Why not take it easy? Start walking. Stop - just give up. It never was that important. Why don't you just stay longer at work or home? You can always do it tomorrow."

The key to success is breaking through these walls. Proper training and nutrition will help your body handle the stress of training, but often The Wall is more about the psychological than the physical.  Here are a few of the techniques I teach in my work with athletes to give them the mental strength to demolish internal barriers.

Whatever level you're at you can also use them to help you run further, faster, longer and get more enjoyment from it too. Pick whichever strategy seems most appropriate for you.


Dissociate Yourself

There's an old adage that says, "You get what you focus on". Or, as Muhammad Ali said, "It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe."  

When you start to feel any form of physical discomfort turn your attention to other things - in other words change your focus. In sport we call this dissociation.

In essence, the foundations of The Wall are built on physical discomfort, which is a form of 'narrow-internal' focus. If we want to distract ourselves, to dissociate from this discomfort, we need to move our consciousness away from the 'narrow-internal' focus. Here, are some examples of this:

  • Broad-internal focus. Think 'happy thoughts' - taking your mind to times and places where you enjoyed positive or happy emotions (holidays, celebrations etc.).
  • Broad-external focus. Start admiring your environment, distract yourself by looking at different aspects of your surroundings.
  • Narrow-external focus. Concentrate on the running style of someone immediately in front of you - for example, their pace length or the way their ankles move when hitting the ground.

Make a Mantra

You can also interrupt your pattern of thinking by switching to a new form of 'narrow-internal' thinking - by using a running mantra, for example. This can be ' chanted' (internally is probably best, especially if you're in a group!) to match the rhythm of your foot-fall. For example:

"Nice & easy, Flowing freely.

Skipping feet, Fast and fleet.

Energy flowing, Easy going."

If you fancy creating your own form of mantra focus it on positive aspects like the ones above.  Don't include references to 'beating the pain' or 'smashing the pain barrier'.

Only by trying different forms of focus can you assess which type of dissociation works best for you, so give each of them a try on your next few runs.

Here's wishing good luck for demolishing your own internal walls!


Ken Way is a Sports Psychologist and author of Mental Mastery - tried and tested techniques for exceptional sports performance, £24,99, available from. Visit Ken's website:


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Leave your questions and comments for Ken via the box below.


Ken, I love all this stuff!  I am a real pupil of the mind as well as the body.  I truly believe we are only touching the surface of what the mind is capable of!  Will definitely purchase the book!



Found this article very helpfull, could relate very much to the focusing of self, some clever quotations thanks!



Thanks for the advice will surely use it... Take Care. James



Westie, you never forget them you always smile



This is simple stuff, and the stuff I always forget! A good reminder.