My guest writer today is someone whose blog I’ve been reading a long time. Jesica from rUnladylike is here today to share her tips on how to train your brain to overcome mental ruts when it comes to running. If you haven’t read rUnladylike yet, head over and check it out – Jesica is a knowledgable, experienced running coach with great running tips and advice. She also (as her blog title might give away) does not hold back when it comes to all the undignified things that can happen to runners. My favorite rUnladylike posts are the Friday Fitspiration series, in which she interviews or features some truly inspirational athletes of all abilities. Thank you so much for being my guest today, Jesica!
We can vividly recall those glorious moments of our first running victories … The first time we ran a mile without stopping. The first half marathon finish line we crossed. The race where everything came together and we did more than we imagined possible. I love remembering the time I told a friend I would never – could never – run a half marathon or marathon. Eight marathons, nine half marathons and numerous triathlons later, I still love thinking about that conversation and doing things I once believed were impossible.
So, why is it that we so readily focus on what isn’t going right or on the doubts that creep into our brains? Why do we second-guess ourselves and allow our fears of what we “can’t do” overshadow what we can and will do?
Simple. Because running and fitness is as much about mental training as it is about physical training.
During the past few months, one of my good running friends has not been able to celebrate any of her runs or personal victories because she is so focused on what she isn’t doing. Instead of accepting where she is today and being proud of her incremental improvements that will eventually lead to big changes, she is constantly judging herself and beating herself up. In all honesty, I think she has forgotten why she started running. I bet if she was really being honest, she’d admit it is no longer fun.
Unfortunately, far too many of us struggle with our internal demons – battling those voices in our heads that try to tell us we’re weak. That we’re not strong enough. That it’s too hard.
So how do we bust out of a mental rut? Here are a few ideas for regaining your positive perspective:
- Don’t put pressure on yourself that doesn’t really exist. While having goals is important when it comes to training and racing, if those goals are unrealistic – or if you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to achieve those goals you feel miserable – stop. If you’re in a mental rut because you’re worried about hitting a specific time, consider adjusting your goal to finishing strong and enjoying the experience. All you can ever do is the best you can with what the day gives you. Giving your best effort is always good enough.
- Only compete with yourself. Whether it’s from the daily deluge of social media posts or simply within your local running group, try to avoid focusing on how fast other people are going or how others’ performance compares to your own. I know it’s tempting, especially if a close training partner is running stronger at the moment, but it doesn’t make you stronger or faster. Instead, celebrate others’ successes, and don’t forget to celebrate your own. There are many different versions of success. Focus on what is working well for YOU and harness that.
- Train smart to race stronger. Training smart means alternating easy days with hard days. It means actually running easy runs and recovery runs slow. It means having the courage to take a day off if you aren’t feeling well or are overly fatigued. It means listening to your body and giving yourself the breaks you need. Every run will not be fast, magical and perfect. What makes you successful at the end of the day is how well you can bounce back from the crappy workouts. What do you gain by dwelling on them? Take a small lesson from those bad days and channel what you learn into a great run moving forward.
- Be your own cheerleader. While support from friends, family and fellow runners is key to being successful in endurance sports, believing in yourself is the ultimate key to success. See the positive things you’re doing. Even on the days when you are struggling, be proud that you simply got out there and tried. Celebrate the small victories – waking up at 5 a.m. to run before your kids wake up. Hitting the treadmill instead of the couch after a long work day. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back even when you are slower than you would have liked or when you had to walk longer than you wanted to. You’re doing it. Go get some pom poms and shake them in your face!
- If it isn’t fun, find something that is. Try to think back to why you started running. What do you love about it? Why have you kept doing it? What makes it enjoyable? (I hope you can remember). If it causes you more misery than joy, perhaps it’s time for a break. Perhaps you need to try something new, like a new fitness class, yoga or cross-training. Perhaps running on trails without your watch or hiking with friends will bring you joy. Whatever it is, make sure that you don’t forget to have fun.
Always remember, you are stronger than you think and capable of more than you believe to be possible. Spend time exercising your mental muscles as much as you do your body. For more on mental training, check out these articles:
- 26.2 Mantras: A Happy Thought for Every Mile
- 7 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Race Day
- How to Turn Motivation into Action
- Training Your Brain: 6 Tips for Getting Strong in the “Mind Gym”
How do you get through challenging mental moments during your training and fitness?
What strategies do you use to overcome mental barriers?
Jesica D’Avanza is a communications professional, writer and the blogger behind runladylike.com. As a runner, triathlete and certified marathon coach, she’s on a mission to find her extraordinary and inspire others to do the same. On her blog – appropriately named by combining the words “run” and “unladylike” – she shares her uncensored and often unladylike adventures of running and triathlon training. Jesica lives in Tampa, Florida, and has completed eight marathons, nine half marathons and numerous triathlons, including two half iron distance races. In her day job, she serves as vice president of marketing communications for a national charity dedicated to saving and improving the lives of people with diseases that take away muscle strength and mobility.