How To Get Through The Mental Side Of Training
Running is one of those activities that seems to yield a fairly polarized reaction; people either love it and can’t stop talking about it, or they hate it and wonder why anyone would willingly partake in such an activity. Many of us probably started in the latter camp, dreading the day we’d have to run a mile for our PE classes when we were younger or hoping that our other sports’ practices wouldn’t relegate us to having to run as punishment for poor behavior or performance.
Eventually, though, we came full-circle with our attitude towards running, and suddenly, running isn’t the bothersome and painful chore that it once was before. Instead, running became an activity that we pursue with joy and expectancy, a hobby that lets us transcend the minutia of day-to-day existence and challenge us to try to become faster, fitter, and stronger versions of ourselves. Surely the physical conditioning that running gives us can account for part of this dynamic change from being a running-hater to being a running-lover, but perhaps as important as the physical conditioning, the mental side of running plays an enormous role in our running careers.
Many running-hating people think it’s inconceivable that a person would want to run at all – let alone huge distances, like a half marathon, marathon, or ultramarathon – and seasoned runners will often reply that it’s more of a “mind over matter” thing, that it’s more “mental” than anything, or that “anyone can do this stuff.” Is there something to all of this? Aside from actually physically training for an endurance event, can mentally training yourself actually matter? My answer, at least from my years of experience and my many observations from that of my friends, is unequivocally yes.
The cardiovascular side of running matters, without a doubt, but so, too, does the mental side of running. Even popular running brand ASICS, whose name derives from the Latin that roughly translates (in English) to “in a sound body exists a sound mind,” acknowledges the importance of the mind-body connection in running.
Here are some tips for you to consider the next time you find yourself struggling to get through the mental side of running, whether you’re in the trenches of training for your next event or even as you’re throwing down during a race, wondering how you’ll ever be able to continue:
Believe in yourself. It sounds silly, but it’s true. If you don’t believe in yourself and your ability to work hard and achieve your goal, who will? Know that training can be extremely challenging and grueling, but at the same time, you are capable. Be your own best advocate and cheerleader.
Mantras can matter. There’s so much hippy-dippy nonsense in the running world, and while you might categorize mantras under that umbrella, they can also be really useful when you’re grinding through a tough run or race. The words we use can affect how we feel, so be positive. What would you say to your very best friend if she were going through the same hard effort as you? Be that positive to yourself. Mantras don’t have to be complicated – relentless forward progress, one more mile, just keep going, be brave, any simple phrase will do – but they should leave you feeling empowered and ready to go kick butt.
Power up to a power song. If you listen to music while you train or compete, consider putting together a power-song playlist that you listen to only during the toughest workouts or races. It doesn’t matter what type of music it is – whatever revvs your engine – but similar to a mantra, listening to power songs should make you feel like you’re ready to take on the world and run fast.
Dissociate from yourself or from the world. When the going gets tough, it can be tempting to try to tune out everything. This works both ways; you can tune out the signs your body is giving you, the ones that are telling you that you’re tired and want to stop, or likewise, you can tune out the world and all its external cues and become hyper-focused on every part of your body. Dissociating can be tricky, however, because you need to listen to your body to avoid injuring yourself, but experience and practice will teach you the difference between racing and training discomfort and actual, injurious pain. When a run or race gets tough, some people turn themselves massively inward and become “all unto themselves,” for lack of a better phrase, and others do just the opposite and try to transcend themselves. It all sounds pretty silly, but it can be a really helpful mental strategy.
Remember your why. Finally, when you’re actively working on your mental game in your running, it is important to always remember your “why.” Why, exactly, did you get into running in the first place? Did you like it originally? Who piqued your interest in the sport? What good has running done for you and your life? Asking yourself such introspective questions mid-run can help re-center you and remember that even when things seem really tough – when it seems inevitable that you will need to give up – that you are proof that you can overcome adversity and that many things had to happen in order to get you to where you are presently. Never lose sight of the gratitude that you should have for even being able to run in the first place because there are surely many people out there who would love to run but can’t, for whatever reason. You may not have always been a runner, but you are now, so respect the journey that you took to get where you are – as well as the journey that you’re taking to get to your next destination.
In addition to the above tips, there are also a host of motivational and self-help, sports-focused books out there that help athletes refine their mental game to make them into better athletes. Perusing a local or online bookstore should easily give you some results worth checking out. Some people might even claim that the physical conditioning inherent to running is the easy part; it’s the mental side that takes a lot of work. Regardless, with a little practice every day – or on every run – you’ll find ways to cultivate your own mental game and will be able to draw from it on runs that really test the limits of your endurance – physical or otherwise.