Running: A Mental Sport

by Lori Anderson, Red Dirt Staff

We've all heard the adage that running is 90% mental.  But how exactly to we conquer that inner voice when we're overcome with negative thoughts?  We need to fight off those voices that are telling us we won't be able to finish, we aren't running fast enough, we aren't doing good enough.  We tend to psych ourselves out, but our body is so much stronger than our mind lets us believe.  

We all run for different reasons ~ to obtain a distance or time goal, to enjoy the social aspect of running with friends, to become physically fit, to clear our minds, and on and on.  But, whether you're running a marathon, a fun run, or just trying to run a mile around the block...or even just beginning to take up running, tackling your workout becomes much more difficult when your head isn't in the game.  The physical challenge of a run is obvious ~ we expect our muscles to get sore, to be short of breathe when we push our limits.  But the mental challenge, that voice saying "I've had enough, you can't do this," will win every time if we let it.  That little voice will turn a seemingly simple run into a monumental struggle.  We celebrate our good runs, yet beat ourselves up over the bad ones.  Running is a journey and with a few tricks up our sleeves, we can break down those mental barriers.

Here are a few tips to help us conquer our biggest opponent, our mind:

  1. Break it Down.  Whether it's a long run, or just the thought of getting out the door, the thought of completing your entire workout can be daunting.  Try breaking it down into manageable chunks.  For a marathoner, a manageable chunk may be a 10-k, yet for a beginner it might be to the nearest tree or landmark.  This keep your mind in the present rather than worrying about what is to come. Mentally overcoming mini challenges is a lot easier than overcoming one giant obstacle.
  2. Distract Yourself.  When fatigue sets in and your minds is flooded with negative talk, find a distraction.  Listen to / sing music, focus on your breathing or form, count cars, whatever works for you.  Just doing something to take your mind off what you're actually doing will help keep those irrational voices away.
  3. Stay Positive.  Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations.  When thoughts of "I can't do this" start popping into your head, tell yourself "I CAN do this!"  Develop a positive mantra to repeat to yourself, write positive words on your hand, because you can do anything your mind believes! 
  4. Remember that Everybody Hurts.  When your run gets tough, you are not alone.  EVERYBODY, from elites to beginners, struggle at some point.  It's not supposed to be east and it isn't.  Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

Remember, every struggle is part of the process.  We have good days and we have bad days. "This is about the journey, not just the destination,"

Share with us your tricks for conquering those inner voice!

Happy Running!!