4 Ways to Breakout of a Mental Rut
Everyone runs for different reasons, and people get into this painful, sometimes heartbreaking, yet joyous sport in different ways. For seasoned runners, the routine of “run, workout, rest, race, recover, repeat” is ingrained in our minds as much as it is in the soles of our running shoes. We know our weaknesses and try to tend to them (“Don’t go out too fast!”) and our strengths (“Use the hill!”).
But running, like every other sport, comes with a unique host of mental challenges that require a delicate balancing act on the part of the runner. For high school and college athletes, it’s a precarious balancing act that we learn via trial and error, and most of us who competed at that age are familiar with the term “sophomore slump.” It’s a dreaded phrase, but a bracing one. There are factors inside you working against you and your running that are causing a mental rut at the moment. The key to taking this in stride is adjusting the balancing act accordingly; a simple solution to a complex problem.
Sophomore slumps aren’t just for high school and college athletes either. The term can be broadly applied to those who have moved beyond the realm of entry into a new phase in running (for example, freshman to sophomore, newbie road runner to more experienced, etc) and are at a critical junction in their mental development as an athlete. This junction is often only referred to and never directly addressed, but it’s important to recognize the challenges that come with a slump as something each individual has a lot of control over. Below are four ways to combat the inevitable mental ruts that send so many of us careening into despondency, and instead reclaim the passion and energy we have for the sport we love.
Hit Pause on Your Watch
For most runners, the idea of leaving the house without a watch would be akin to running with their hair down–it just doesn’t feel natural to not reach over and hear the tiny “beep” that means the run has officially started. Over time though, those little beeps can add up, subconsciously settling into the recesses of our minds as markers of failed workouts, slow tempo runs, or lethargic fartleks. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful of this part of your routine–hitting the “start” button on a watch should be an invigorating thing, something that yields a sigh of relief that for the next little while, this time is yours as a runner. When it ceases to yield this, when the “beep” causes your feet to feel heavy and your breathing to become irregular even as you set out to do something you’ve done countless times before–it’s time to disconnect from the pattern and find a rhythm without the beep. This can feel daunting or even less pleasant at first, but the mental liberation that comes from running with a naked wrist is a way of resetting your mind and allowing yourself to be fully present for the run, without hundreds of companions in accumulated seconds to distract or discourage.
Break Plans with Yourself
Runner’s guilt is so real – we plan our days to incorporate runs and agonize over missed workouts or last-minute changes that keep us from our daily dose of exercise. But when you’re in a slump, these plans, normally so crucial to our mental stability, become looming, heavy feelings of obligation. If you find yourself checking the time, the weather, your day planner, or taking longer to get ready than the actual run itself will take, this could be a sign that you just need to scrap the plan for a day or two, and consciously let yourself take a mental breather. This is not the same as the procrastinating and the dawdling leading up to a self-mandated run; mental breathers are where you tell yourself “enough is enough, I’m not going to run tomorrow. Instead I’m going to (insert activity that actually sounds enjoyable to you).” You’re not a bad runner for taking an off day (or two or three), you’re trying to reconnect with yourself and recharge.
Go for a long walk instead of a run
For many runners, running is addictive because of the exercise factor. One of the best feelings in the world is coming back from a run, good or bad, and feeling your body take those last few steps as it gears down from its miles of exertion. While completely taking some time off works for some runners, for others, lacing up and going out and doing something can still be an important part of the daily routine, and a walk is a good substitute for a runner in a rut who still wants to lace up and get out the door. Much like running, walking is also an actively thoughtful process, and because it’s naturally a slower gait there’s more time to mull over whatever thoughts have been knocking around in your mind.
Start a daily gratitude diary
An entry doesn’t have to be pages – one bullet point can suffice. Either first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed, write down something, anything, you’re grateful for. Runners sometimes get so caught up in the vast mental complexities of running that it can be easy to forget there is a world outside of it worth noting and appreciating, too. Did you hit all the green lights on the way to work that morning? Have a nice chat with a coworker at lunch? Have lunch alone for once? Make a really great dinner? Splurge and buy your favorite takeout? Write it down. Taking the time to feel grateful invites a host of other positive feelings, which can have a trickle-down effect on a positivity-parched running mentality.