Running is a physical test of strength and fitness, but I believe it is a mental challenge too! Although physically fit enough to finish longer distances, sometimes “negative” and demotivating thoughts are creeping in and then it seems just too hard to keep going mentally. These thoughts are not of any help at all. Let’s beat that mental battle!
So how can we change our minds and keep ourselves positive and motivated? To win the mind game that is played in your head while running, it is helpful to do some psychological training. This might sound very complicated, but with some practice, any athlete can! You will surely benefit from a more positive mindset.
The following practical tips might be useful:
Recognise the negative mindset
Recognise which thoughts are negatively putting yourself down. Reflect upon those thoughts. What are you thinking?
- Are you focusing on situations or things you cannot control?
- Are you focussing on the hard aspect of the course?
- Are you doubting wether you are able to do it or not?
- Or are you making excuses?
Decide to think positively
If only it were that easy to stop the negative thoughts, right? But only you can decide what you are thinking! So just decide to think something else, something positive! Remember: all runners face the same weather conditions and the same variables during a race. Is it pouring rain? Well, that might be very uncomfortable, but at least the race was not canceled. Don’t focus on aspects you cannot control. Ask yourself how bad the current situation really is? Is this the worst case scenario and does it really influence your run today too much? Are your thoughts realistic at all? Is there any good reason to quit your run or even not go for a run at all today? Are you physically absolutely not capable of running? Have you exaggerated the situation? Or are you just making up excuses?
Focus on what you are capable of
If you’re thinking that “you can’t do this today”, try to shift your thoughts to all the training sessions and runs you’ve done previously. Looking back at what you did and what you’ve accomplished before, makes you feel more secure about what you are capable of now. Read your training logs or think of runs you successfully finished. Those are the ones, you want to focus on. Believe in yourself. Yes you can! If you do need extra help though, to improve yourself physically or to prevent injuries, there’s a lot to be found online.
Stop making up excuses! Pep talk and re-focus
Sometimes I recognise how my mind creates all kind of reasons why I’d better quit my training earlier than planned. Or sometimes I feel like not doing any runs at all, because : “it might rain soon, it might ruin the rest of today’s planning, I might need to go to the bathroom soon, I might have eaten too much/not enough, I need to do so many other things today….” etc. I’m basically just making up excuses.
When I am running alone and I’m mentally struggling like this, I really need to kick my own butt and refocus with some pep talk. It is very important to tell myself that I’m not really physically exhausted, I’m just not so disciplined today and mentally weak. But I also know how to push through it: I promise myself a “reward”, something that will make me feel better, if I continue my run. It could be a small extra drinking break or a nice massage when I finish the training.
What also works for me to distract me from my demotivating thoughts and excuses, is redirecting my thoughts to something else: like focussing on my breathing rhythm, my running pace or my running form. Sometimes I even count steps for a while. Or I try to focus more on the surroundings: flowers that are blooming, or other runners in front of me. Or I sing along with the song that I’m hearing. When I am running on a treadmill, watching a movie is a useful distraction.
How to shift from negative to positive thoughts
Changing your mindset can be tough. Trying to focus on something else and replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, takes a bit of practice. But anyone can, really! Here are some tips that might be helpful:
Remember WHY you run: what’s your running goal?
Sometimes running is just …not so nice. It seems that you simply can’t find a running rhythm that usually makes you feel good. It happens to many runners every now and then. Just remember what made you decide to run in the first place. Maybe you wanted to run a marathon, or you wanted to raise funds for a charity, or you started running to lose weight? And why do you remain in it? We all started somewhere and we all continue for different reasons. When you feel that during your runs your thoughts become a bit negative: just remember why you run.
Focus on what you’ve done already
Do you still have a few more miles to go but you feel so tired? Just look at the distance you’ve done so far, especially if you are over halfway done! Do you think this workout is “the hardest one you’ve ever done”? Remember that you managed to complete the previous “hardest one” as well!
Break up your run
Dividing your run into smaller pieces will make a long distance feel much more manageable. For example, if you’re running 15 km, cut it into three sessions of 5 km. You could even plan a short stretching break and have a sip of water before you start the next 5 km. At the start of each new part, visualise yourself just starting out on a new run with fresh legs and just focus on getting to the end of it. And repeat until you’re done.
It’s not always easy, but you will be so proud afterwards
When you’re doing a long run, regularly remind yourself that it’s not easy to train for a long-distance event. If it were easy, everyone would do it, right? You’ve taken on this challenge and the struggle you’re facing now will make your accomplishment even more worthwhile in the end. You’ll be extra proud knowing how much effort it cost you!
Put up reminders with motivational quotes
Pick a short phrase or motivational quote and write them on post-it memo’s. Place them at visible places: your bathroom mirror, your car’s dashboard, your purse or on your wardrobe door. And then repeat them in your mind during your runs. This could be your inner motivation when you need it most. For example:
- I don’t stop when I’m tired; I stop when I’m done.
- Speed doesn’t matter, as long as you do not stop.
- The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
- All miles are good miles.
Promise yourself a reward to look forward to
It can be good idea to decide on forehand what you’ll reward yourself with after you’ve finish your race. It gives you something to look forward to. A nice warm bath, a massage, a pedicure to take care of your runners feet, it could be anything. Not only after a race but even after an intensive training you can reward yourself with something: your favourite meal for dinner, an hour of relaxing in the sun, a moment to wind off. Keep your post-run reward in mind when the run is getting hard!
Well prepare your race
If you’d like to train for a running event you might need some help from experienced runners or coaches, but you can find a lot of useful information online as well, about runners nutrition, training schedules, running form, runners needs and injury prevention.
When the race date is getting closer, it is important to prepare yourself well, in order to keep yourself focussed during the run itself:
- Make sure you have everything you need for your race: shoes, BIB, right clothing for the type of weather, runners watch, gels, etc.
- Know what the course looks like: where is the start, where are the drinking posts, where are the toilets, is the course hilly or flat.
- Eat and drink well, and have enough rest. You’re physically prepared well so you can do it! There is no need to be nervous.
- Imagine yourself running the course and crossing the finish line. Think about how you will feel to see your loved ones at the finish line cheering for you.
When the going gets tough, just keep on smiling! A smile on your face can drastically improve your mindset, even if you fake it. Try in front of the mirror and see what happens! Would you like some more on how to improve your mental strength? Have a look at this book:
I hope my tips will help you to beat that mental battle that comes with running. I wish you all More Fun 2 Run! Please let me know if you have any questions. You can sent me a private message at firstname.lastname@example.org or just leave your comment below.