We have heard it time and time again, and likely personally experienced it even more, but it’s totally true: running is all about your mental game. And sometimes even more so than physically.
Often our legs and bodies are capable of way more than we think, and it is only our brain and our mind that is holding us back. It is that little voice in our head that is saying “you can’t,” or “give up now,” or “it’s not worth it,” that is making us struggle. And the more we hear the voice, the more we start to believe it, and the more we genuinely feel like the task ahead and the distance left to run is completely insurmountable.
But why are you letting that voice win? Why are you letting that voice, those inaccurate, demeaning words control you and what you more accurately know you are capable of? Your success in running comes not just from training and covering the miles, but from learning how to conquer the voice when it arises and the negative things it tries to make you believe.
And just like you practice running, you can practice overcoming these mental struggles as well. Here’s 6 strategies you can adopt to use to help you when your brain is letting you down far more than your legs:
- Dedicate your miles – When you start struggling during a race, it can be motivating to think about who you are doing it for, or who you are grateful for that has allowed you to be here doing what you are doing. For example, maybe it’s your husband who has looked after the kids every Sunday morning for the last 4 months so you could do your long runs. Maybe it’s a best friend who picked you up when you were down and disheartened more than one time during training, or your boyfriend who was always at the door waiting to give you a hug when you finished, no matter how sweaty you were! Break your race into chunks of miles (for example, every three or four miles) and dedicate each one of these to one of those people. During those miles, think about them, repeat something motivating that they have said to you, or even carry a picture of each of them with you to pull out and look at when you want to give up.
- Think of your reward – When I went ran Boston last year, the day before the race, I purchased the obligatory Boston jacket at the race expo. It was not my colors at all, but prior to the race, and thinking ahead to it, I was so excited to be able to have and wear the jacket that symbolized my achievement and accomplishment. I didn’t put the jacket on at all before the race. And when things got tough out running the next day, I thought about the fact that finishing the race meant I could wear the jacket and my Boston shirt, knowing that I earned them. And you better bet that I wore them for the next several days – months even – and never really wanted to take them off. Whatever the reward for you, whether it’s wearing the race shirt, your favourite food, an incredible post race massage, or all the beer, use this end of race reward to push you forward.
- Plan out a topic – One of my favourite things about running is the thinking time. Just wide open roads, with wide open spaces for thoughts and figuring things out and making plans and dreaming dreams. But sometimes, even your own thoughts can be overwhelming, or just not motivating enough, and it’s nice to have something else to think about. Do some reading, or listen to some news, and think about a topic ahead of time that you want to ponder. Or sometimes, I use this time to think about things like planning my kitchen design, or when I was in school, I would study. Give it some thought ahead of time and enter your run with a plan!
- Find a mantra – Perhaps one of my favourite mental strategies, find a phrase that is motivating and inspiring to you and repeat it over and over again. Perhaps something like “you’ve got this,” or “you’re stronger than you think you are,” or “just keep going.” It can be as complex or simple as you wish, as long as it has meaning to you and will help push you through.
- Listen to a Podcast – While music is great, sometimes it’s not enough. It’s not distracting enough, or doesn’t do enough to get you through those runs that are a serious struggle or that you are seriously unmotivated to tackle. For these, sometimes it’s nice to have a podcast on an interesting topic. You get to listen to somebody actually talking, and you get to have a series of ideas or inspiring topics to think about. And before you know it, this thinking and talking and ideas and inspiration has carried you through an hour of running. Cue the next episode . . .
- Find a focus point – Sometimes when everything is hurting, it’s really hot (or cold) out, and you have a throbbing blister on your heel, quitting seems very desirable. I remember running Boston and bursting into tears when I hit the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston,” because in nursing a blister for the final 10km, it was the only thing I told myself I had to get t: distract yourself by removing your focus from the present, and shifting it to the future. Look ahead of you on the course, and find something far away that you have to reach and focus just on getting to that point. When you get there, set a new focus point. Continue in this way until the last focus point is the finish line. And then bring it home!