Running doesn’t come easy for me. You’d think it would given I’ve been at it almost 10 years. But it doesn’t. I don’t love it. I love what it does for me and how I feel once I’m done, but the process of actually running, I don’t love. That means most days I have to gear myself up for it and trick my way through it. In fact, over the past couple of months as my distances have gotten longer and longer, I am remembering how much of a mental sport running actually is.
During my marathon training I learned very quickly that running requires as much, some days even more, mental stamina than physical stamina. You reach a point where your muscles and your heart can take you the distance, it’s only your own mind that’s holding you back. And when you don’t love the activity, your mind holds a better hand than your muscles and heart combined. Back then, as my long run distances crept up from 5 miles to 10 miles to 15 miles and beyond, I learned how to use my mind to trick myself into literally going the extra mile.
As I gradually bump up my distance in the half marathon training, I’m reminded of how important that is. Especially on a treadmill, inside, in a garage. Let me assure you there’s is zero motivational factor in that environment. I thought I’d share a few of the mental tricks I use to get through an run – and these can work whether your workout is 20 minutes tough or 2 hours tough:
Give myself permission to quit. Yep, some days my mojo just stays in bed. Especially if my morning started at 6am meaning naptime and my run is at 9am. Morning activity, even when I’ve been up for a bit, is not my forte. So I before I even start I give myself permission to quit. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. I tell myself I can run one mile and if I’m still not feeling it I can quit. The reality is once I’m moving and sweating for that long, I usually figure I’m already there so what’s the point in quitting now. I don’t think I’ve ever actually quit, but somehow giving myself that permission to do so helps get me going.
Just get to half. Some days, after the first 10 minutes I’m still feeling a little blah and the thought, just the thought, of plugging another 50 minutes is too much to take. Instead, I give myself permission to call it quits at the half way mark. If my run is an hour and I make it to 30 minutes, I allow my mind to think we can quit then. Again, more often than not, I hit the half way mark and feel like I can keep it going and finish it strong. Now I have had days where I’ve said, ok half way is enough. And for me that’s ok. Those days are the days I listen to my body and say thanks for giving me 30 minutes. Nine times out of 10 though, I run on.
Make it a segments game. Sometimes I hit the half way mark and know I’m not ready to give up then, but still the thought of another half is a bit much, so I tell myself I can run just 10 more minutes or one more mile or for one more song or to the next light post or stop sign or the top of the hill or whatever it is. In my mind, I’m allowing myself to take a break at that point if needed. The reality is I usually keep on going. I hit the marker and give myself another one. It’s an “okay you’ve made it to this light post or finished this mile or managed one song, surely you can sure make another” and on it goes til the run is done.
Allow myself to walk a bit. Sometimes a breather is all we need to get through. When I trained for the marathon, our long runs were done as 10 & 1’s, meaning we’d run 10 minutes and walk one. That one minute was just enough to allow you to catch your breath, rest your muscles, let your heart stabilize and give you the burst of energy for another 10. Some days when I feel like I just can’t do another step, I slow down for just a minute or two and some how the energy to keep on going comes back.
Take it to the streets. This isn't always an option for me, but when it is I take advantage of it. Especially when I feel like it's going to be a rough one. It is much harder to quit once you're outside than it is on the treadmill. If you decide to cut it short on the treadmill after 15 minutes, you can just get off. If you're outside, you still have to somehow loop back to where you started. If you're 15 minutes into the run that likely means it's 15 minutes back for 30 minutes total. You get a longer, better workout that way ;)
Change it up. If I can`t get outside, I take advantage of the treadmill features. Some days I run intervals, where I sprint for a period of time then recover with a walk or jog and then sprint and so on until it`s done. Or I`ll simply adjust the speed or incline every once in a while, where I`ll bump it up by 2 or 3 or 4 for 2 or 3 or 4 minutes. It makes me run a little harder or faster for a while and then I bring it back down to my usual pace. This change up helps break up the monotony of the indoor run. I guess it`s a variation on the segments game I play.
Distract your inner voice. I don't know about you, but my mind is usually going all the time. Planning, thinking, talking. When I run, that voice usually concentrates on trying to convince me to stop and reminds me I don't love this sport. I work on distracting that voice by giving it something else to do. For me that means writing. Now that I'm on maternity leave, I often write blog posts in my mind on a run. When I was working, I wrote communications plans and news releases and emails. Find your voice's area of interest and redirect it. Plan that next vacation. Have that conversation with your boss that gets you promoted. Redesign that next room. Have that argument that`s bothering you so you don`t have to when you get home ;) Whatever works.