Why I Play Brain Training Games

Ever since I read a book on neuroscience I have routinely trained my mind.

Mental abilities such as concentration, working memory and reaction time all need training if they are to aid athletic performance.

The brain should be worked as much as the leg and arm muscles.

There are a number of important choices every runner has to make during training and racing. These include when to run faster or slower, when to fuel or stop (due to injury), and even when to find motivation or become distracted.

To ensure optimal decision-making your mind must be alert and rational, which requires energy and capacity. The more you train your mind the more efficient it will become.

Practical numeric skills are also useful whilst running, including working out splits, predicting finishing times, and estimating the remaining miles of a race.


The games can become addictive so I limit my sessions to between 10 minutes and half an hour daily. I also switch between a selection of apps to keep the challenges varied and enjoyable.

I use free apps so the only investment I am making is my time. My subconscious need to improve and compete with previous scores ensures meaningful benchmarks.

Consciously building mental strength is essential for mental health today and in the future, and provides a means to unwind from running.

Brain Training Apps

New Advice from Neuroscience

Katwala draws on extensive research to summarise important techniques that improve sports performance. Although many studies refer to the hand-eye coordination of ball sports, the book contains relevant and interesting advice for runners.


Key Findings from Studies

Your vision must be trained as hard as your physique to fulfil your athletic potential. A major difference between amateur and elite athletes is the latter’s ability to track and act upon the slightest of movements.

Your vision is closely related to your mental strength and agility. Thus the stronger the mind, the less stress will drain your energy.

Distraction from any task at hand is better than thinking too much about it. However, visualisation in training can change your physical make-up; thinking of becoming stronger can actually make you stronger.

Sporting Advice

You must learn to transform inevitable nerves into fuel. You can do this by training under controlled self-induced pressure, such as placing an outcome on your performance (reward), adding other mental tasks during your exercise, or modifying your workouts regularly to feel more challenged. All these techniques will build your mental resilience and thus prepare you better for racing conditions.

Sport is a complex pursuit for people to master. To make sporting skills less susceptible to interference by external factors or your conscious mind you need to make actions so implicit that they become instinctual. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, by adopting a positive growth mindset and seeking different circumstances to test your abilities you will develop a strong passion for the sport. Deliberate practice sustained over a long period of time will mean you have a greater chance of success.

Running Advice

Runners give up long before they reach their metabolic and muscular limits. The reason is that they have exhausted their brain. Professor Samuele Marcora explains the ‘psychological model of endurance’, a theory that purports runners must train to reduce their perception of effort.

Tips to reduce the perception of effort include

  • not relying on your watch for every run
  • rinsing your mouth out with a carbohydrate-rich drink
  • smiling as you run and especially after work or a long day
  • controlling your breathing

Playing video games also builds mental stamina because of their repetitive nature, and improves memory and attention span.


This book supports the notion that being an expert in your sport can have its disadvantages. Sometimes having less information (or forgetting what you know) can actually aid performance by ensuring you are focusing on your natural rhythm.

Why Visualise Achieving your Running Goals

If you want to achieve a running goal then you will work towards it.

If it matters enough to you then you will spend more time training. If implemented correctly your efforts will improve your chances of success.

One of the most forgotten exercises in running is visualisation. There are so many reasons to commit to this activity.

Quick – you can spend as little as a minute on this and it will still be effective

Easy – no special knowledge is needed, simply follow the five steps

Free – you do not need to rely on any equipment

Personal – this is completed alone and can be done anywhere, at any time

This technique improves your confidence because it continues to provide you with the clarity of your ambition.

There are many factors that will contribute to you achieving a running goal but no element of your training is more straightforward to implement and offers more focus than visualisation.

It can be done every day, with or without your running shoes on.