For the past few weeks I’ve grown very comfortable with the idea of averaging 10 min/mile on my runs. It seemed like a nice round number and fit easily into my calculations: 30 minutes for a 3 mile run, 40 minutes for a 4 mile run, etc.
Even though I’ll be running my half-marathon with a friend, we’ve been training in different parts of the country (I’m up in Northern California and she’s in LA), so we aren’t quite able to run together. I was so proud of myself with my 10 min/mi pace, until I learned that she’s been running 8 MINUTE MILES.
Uh oh, I thought. Am I horribly off track with my training? I’m struggling with the 10 min/mi pace as it is!
The good thing is, the half-marathon I’m registered for doesn’t have an end time (I know – it sounds wimpy, but I wanted a super low-pressure race for my first one). So theoretically, I could take as much time as I needed…but…it also doesn’t hurt to ramp up my pace during training, does it? Or at least dedicate one day a week to really pushing myself?
So when I woke up this morning, I told myself I would only do 2 miles, but I would finish in under 16 minutes. Well…the two mile thing happened, but the 16 minutes? More like 17:30. Oh well, that is much better that the typical 20 minutes it would take me. Of course, I did feel like I was killing myself there at the end to beat the clock…I even started to feel a little sick.
Even though I fell short of my goal, it wasn’t entirely in vain. The context: my run this morning took place on a 1 mile loop around a lake. I kept passing a really cute guy at the start of the trail and at the half-way point (we were running in opposite directions). After we had passed each other four times, he stopped me and said, “Hey, we’re running at like, the exact same pace! We should just run together,” as he motioned for me to join him on another lap. In part because I was about to pass out after killing myself to keep that pace, and in part because I was a red-faced, sweaty mess, I declined. But who knows? What better motivation to wake up and run in the morning than the prospect of meeting a cute running partner?
So much of our ability in running comes from having the correct frame of mind. Oftentimes we fall short of our goal because our mind tells us we can’t do it, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bored, etc. Here are some simple tips I’ve found to help me overcome those mental barriers and push through.
Lean into the pain. Avoidance of pain is one of our most instinctive human responses. Although certain types of discomfort do signal potential injury, there are also plenty of aches and pains that are simply signs that you are pushing your body. “You need to push through discomfort to see performance gains,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, in Runner’s World Magazine. So don’t stop running next time you sense the first hint of pain. Instead, listen to your body. Try to recognize if the pain is a sign of growth or a sign of injury. If it’s a sign of growth, push into it. Let that inspire you. Know your body is trying to reach limits it hasn’t before, and that’s how you’ll become faster and stronger.
Set ambitious goals. I’ve learned one very simple psychological trick: if I tell myself I’m going to run three miles, I’ll be exhausted after three. If I tell myself I’m going to run seven, I’ll be exhausted after seven. For a long time I kept thinking that four miles was my limit, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t moving past four simply because I never aimed to run more.
Identify short-term targets. Take it one step at a time. Focus on making it to the top of the hill, then to the end of the street, down the next block. Try to push through to the end of the song you’re listening to or try running especially hard for the next 30 seconds.
Look for little victories. Congratulate yourself after each mile or after each stretch. One small reward system I’ve implemented is allowing myself to sip from my water bottle after each mile.
Refocus your thoughts. It’s okay to tune into your body, but it’s also okay to tune out and let your mind wander. Do you have a project at work to mull over? A friend you’re excited to see? Or maybe you would prefer to tune into your surroundings, whether that means observing nature or even making up stories about passerby. Whether running is your time to process things in your everyday life or to ponder more abstract ideas, this kind of mental activity is good in that it distracts you from physical discomfort. When your mind zeros in on the pain, your body actually increases its stress response, thereby aggravating that discomfort.
Visualize goals. If you begin your run by saying “There’s no way I’ll reach my goal today,” chances are you won’t. Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Imagine yourself telling your friend, partner, or workout partner “I ran ____ today,” and the sense of pride that accompanies it. Recall past experiences where you did accomplish your goal. How did that feel?
Remind yourself why you do it. What are your motivations for running? Do you run to lose weight? To train for a marathon? To decrease your stress levels? To impress a friend or partner? Whatever the reason, imagine how much closer you’ll be to that goal if you push through to the end.