On February 27, Josh Kerr of the Brooks Beasts ran a 3:48.87 mile at Boston University. He’s now one of only seven athletes to run sub-3:50 indoors. His mark is also the new Scottish, British, and European indoor record. And his 1500-meter time of 3:32.86 en route also broke the Scottish and British records.
Kerr credits the blistering mile record to many factors: Perfect pacing by teammate Waleed Suliman. Coaching from Danny Mackey. Behind-the-scenes record planning from Brooks and his agent, Ray Flynn. New strength training routines. The support of his family, fiancée, friends, and training partners.
But more than anything else, he credits the work he’s done mentally to helping him make the jump from 2017 NCAA champion to 2021 Olympic bronze medalist—and now European record holder.
“It’s so important to not psych yourself out of these big moments,” Kerr told Runner’s World. “I’ve got some deep weaknesses in my mind that we’re working on.”
Here are some of the mental strategies that turned this Brooks Beast into a monster miler.
Don’t lose the race before it starts
In a conversation with his fiancée, Kerr had a realization about his mental game.
“We knew that you can’t win a race in the call room, but you can lose it from the call room to the start line,” he said. He wanted to make sure that between warmup and race time, nothing would creep into his head to prevent success on the track.
Each race has a different mantra. Sometimes, he’ll recall words of gratitude for the all hard work that got him where he is. Other times, he’ll think back to key workouts that went well to give him confidence. It doesn’t always come easy—it took practice to learn how to gather his thoughts while keeping out negativity.
“Having positive memories and words that I have ready for when these negative thoughts come into my head always helps combat the scary moments,” he said.
Work with a professional
While talking to friends and family about the mental side of running was cathartic, Kerr found it difficult at times. So, he sought out someone external whose job is to listen.
“At this point, I work extremely hard. We’re very strict with diet, sleep, [training], and all this stuff,” he said. “How can we unlock the fitness more than anyone else can?”
Kerr decided to work with a mindfulness coach. Together, they discuss mental problems to find concrete solutions through meditation and conversation.
Stick to a routine
Kerr’s mindfulness coach recommended starting each day with a consistent routine. If he could remove any external variables that might affect his mental state, then he could approach the day with a clear mindset.
As a result, he starts his days with 10 minutes of meditation. Then, he might go outside to take in the weather, have a conversation with those around him, or call a family member to chat. Afterward he’ll journal for 10 to 15 minutes in his training diary.
“Just having that morning routine that doesn’t change ... is how I’m able to stay in the moment and be very appreciative of the position I’m in,” Kerr said.
Stay off the phone
When Kerr is focusing on training or racing, looking at his phone can do more harm than good. Emails with new to-dos might distract him. He might read distressing news on social media that sticks in the back of his brain the rest of the day.
That’s not to say that Kerr doesn’t use his phone, but he mainly tries to keep away from it in the morning: “I’m able to be a bit more of a positive person and have the motivation to do exactly what I need to do that day, in the best way I can.”
After his bronze medal, Kerr’s motivation dropped—as to be expected when someone meets a major life goal. Once it was time for fall training, he was out of shape. He hardly finished hill workouts with his teammates.
At the same time, he’d be called into Brooks headquarters to do interviews or to talk to different departments with his medal around his neck. The dichotomy of those two experiences—getting beat in practice while being praised for his accomplishments—kept him humble.
“If I can consistently do things that make me uncomfortable, then I’m never going to be that person that thinks they’re the s--- when they’re not,” he said.
Kerr will carry that thought with him through outdoor track season, where he’ll open up with a 5,000-meter race at a yet-undetermined location. The longer distance is not his forte. “I ran really well [at Boston], but I’m now about to do something that I’m not very good at. So, I’m trying to stay humble with that stuff.”