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.
When I made the commitment to start training for a half marathon, I knew it was going to be physically difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were the emotional hurdles that would inevitably get in my way. That is, life.
I recently went through a tough break-up. When I woke up the morning after, I was emotionally wiped out. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my pajamas all day, hide in my house, and eat chocolate. Inevitably, my half marathon training schedule flashed open on my desktop, reminding me I needed to run 4 miles that day. Naturally, I resisted. I was so laden with mental and emotional stress that I felt drained of all energy and motivation. And in a way, I think I told myself I couldn’t run because I was “in mourning”, and continuing with life as normal would insult the magnitude of the situation.
Even though running always cheers me up, I spent the day moping about and as a result, felt even worse. The next day, I acknowledged how counter-intuitive this kind of behavior was. I knew I needed to force myself into action. I started small: I laced up my shoes. I stepped outside, and I told myself that even if I managed a ten-minute jog, I would be proud of myself. Almost within minutes of being outside, however, my spirits lifted. I ended up running far more than I had anticipated (4 miles at 9 mph – a personal best). When I came back home, though I still felt sad, I felt more empowered to deal with and process those feelings.
When we are going through an emotional low period, whether it’s the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or simply being in a funk, getting out the door can be the biggest challenge. We might tell ourselves “I’ll take one day off – it won’t make a difference,” or with feelings of futility, ask ourselves, “What does it even matter anymore?” This kind of thinking is dangerous, however, because exercising not only provides a space for us to process and think through whatever we might be going through, but physically speaking, it releases endorphins. It allows us the freedom to move on with a clearer mind and lighter heart. You don’t have to run that 8K on an especially rough day, but don’t let your emotions keep you inside, as that might simply prolong those negative feelings.
What are your tactics for powering through with tough days? How do you rally the motivation to get out the door?
Join me on my journey to run a half-marathon. In this series, I’ll be outlining my training program and loggin my progress along the way in order to (1) hold myself accountable, (2) seek help/advice from any readers who may be more experienced, (3) connect with any readers who are also in training and looking for support/encouragement.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert in the slightest degree. I’ve only been running seriously for the past few months, so I’m still new to the whole thing. If you have any advice, I would be more than happy to hear it in the comments below.
I’ll go into the specific training plan I’m using in the next post, but for now, here are some fundamental tips I’ve picked up about training wisely for a half-marathon:
- The Shoes. Choosing the right gear is important, but the shoes are perhaps the most essential. I decided to do the barefoot thing all out for this training program so I’ll be alternating between my Vibram FiveFinger Sprints and my New Balance Minimus. Since I feel fairly educated about the risks and adjustments associated with barefoot running, I think I can make these two shoes work for the long distance.
- Cross-Training. I will devote every Sunday to cross-training, which for me will probably be swimming, a yoga/pilates combo, or maybe just a visit to the gym where I will rotate between spinning, weights, the erg, etc.
- Mid-Week Training. My base distance will be 3 miles. During my mid-week training, I will stick mainly to this distance while slowly increasing my pace, elevation, etc.
- Race Pace. Since my ultimate goal is a half-marathon, my race pace will be 9:00/mile. One day a week, I will run the assigned distance at this pace.
- Rest Days. The rest days are as important as the running days. When I first started running, I tried to run every day of the week. To my surprise, I ran stronger after my first rest day that I had been running previously. Rest days are essential for our muscles to regenerate and get stronger.
- Indoor v. Outdoor Training. I’m conflicted over how much training to do on my treadmill v. outdoors. While I enjoy running on the treadmill because it tracks my distance, pace, and elevation exactly, I recognize that the treadmill is somewhat easier in that the “conditions” are always perfect: no wind, average temperature, humidity, etc. In addition, the treadmill provides more “give” and is thus a little gentler on your knees and ankles, you never have to run downhill (which I find very hard on my ankles), and instead of learning how to keep your own pace, the treadmill electronically determines it for you. I’m going to try to strike a balance between the two – maybe three treadmill and two outdoors days each week.
- Races. A lot of sites recommend running shorter races (5k or 8k, for example) before your half marathon in order to (1) have a concrete goal for the near future, (2) make sure you are comfortable in the race atmosphere and you know the proper protocol, and (3) check your time/progress. I’ve just signed up for an 8K (“Into the Wild Rockin’ Summer Race”) on September 5th, so I have 15 days to prep for that.
Training begins tomorrow – see you on the track!
Sites I’ve found useful: