Q - Peter, you often hear that running is 100% mental but that doesn't make sense to me - so what do you think about this?
A - Obviously, making the decision to take up the pursuit in the first place and/or remaining motivated thereafter to persist in training are premeditated in nature. But as for what part the mental side plays in an actual performance, that's another issue, and one, that's interesting to quantify.
What we're talking about is to what extent does the mental state of the performer's mind affect performance. And when we talk about the mental state we're talking about the level of confidence, ability to remain focused, ability to maintain being highly motivated, ability to optimally control emotions, ability to remain alert and capable of execution , and so on.
These are undoubtedly extremely important determinants of performance. But to what extent? Let me take a stab at quantifying this by considering a couple of examples.
Let's first of all look at a fairly high level male miler. Let's assume at his best he's capable of a 4:00 minute mile. I've seen such runners toe the line in a terrible state of mind resulting in poor pacing, disinterest , or loss of heart and just plain giving up. But even in such situations and assuming that the runner completes the race, the final time might at the worse be only 10 seconds slower than his capability. Now 10 seconds as a per cent of 4:00, or 240 seconds, is about 4%.
A second example might be a 20:00, 5,000 meter runner. What might happen in the case of a lousy mental state? For fun, let's see what a 4% slowdown might result in:
20:00 x 1.04 = 20.8 minutes or 20 minutes + 48 seconds. I think 48 seconds over 5,000 meters makes common sense as a possible slowdown attributable to an undesirable state of mind.
I conclude that to perform at one's best you need your mental capability to be 100% and if it isn't, one's performance may be negatively affected as much as 4%.