Whether you’re a beginner runner or a total pro, there will be times during some of your runs when every fibre in your body is telling you to stop!
Unless you have an injury, in which case, you without a doubt should stop running, here are some mental tricks to push on with your run when you really don’t feel like it.
1. Focus on your breathing
Focus on each in and out breath that you’re taking and, if necessary, ease off slightly if you really are breathless. It’s surprising how much energy you can regain from taking the foot off the gas for a moment.
Take a few moments to think about your posture, take a glance down at your feet and make a mental note of your gait. Are you rolling your feet at all, are they hitting the ground evenly?
Anything that distracts you from your running mental block is a positive step to keep going.
2. Pick your personal Rocky theme tune
If you’re someone that is motivated by music, make sure you have a playlist for the occasion. If necessary, save these favourite tunes for your really mentally tough runs so you don’t become ‘desensitised’ to them.
I’m personally very motivated by music and my playlist can have a massive effect on whether I’m able to push on when I really want to walk.
One time I can recall a particularly effective playlist is during the Bristol Half Marathon. I was going for a PB and I was 10 miles in. I felt pretty good but the urge to walk ‘just for a minute’ was so strong I had to fight to keep going.
Then Muse’s Uprising came to save the day. When it came on, it felt like the most motivational song I’d EVER heard (clearly I’d heard it many times before this) but it really did give me the mental strength to keep going.
I even played it twice!
If music isn’t your thing, there are tons of motivational podcasts out there for you to listen to on your run. They don’t necessarily need to be running related, they can be anything that uplifts you and makes you feel like a badass.
3. Mini milestones
I’m a massive advocate for ‘running to the next…’. Usually, I’ll give myself a visual goal like a lamp post or a street sign and focus all my mental energy on getting to that thing.
Very often this will motivate me and I’ll think ‘well I’ve made it to this lamp post, I may as well try for the next one’ and so on.
During a race, I find the next km or mile a better marker to focus on because often I’ll have pushed past my ‘wall’ without even noticing it.
Be warned though, make sure you don’t think of your mini milestone as a ‘stop sign’. Think of it more as a mini milestone of many.
4. Banish negative thoughts
If you feel a negative thought creeping across your mind, stop it in its tracks before it really becomes lodged in there!
Sometimes you may not have even noticed that you’ve been dragging yourself down with those niggling self doubts. Be kind to yourself when you recognise you’ve gone over to the dark side and bring yourself back with a positive statement.
Things like ‘I absolutely CAN keep going’, ‘I’ve come this far, I can go a little further’, and ‘no pain no gain’ can all be the boost to keep your legs pounding the pavement.
If you need some visual cues to help you, why not buy a motivational bracelet or write your favourite mantra on your hand.
5. Imagine it
Mentally projecting a visual image of achieving a goal is a really powerful tool, and not just when it comes to running.
Visualise yourself crossing that finish line, achieving that Personal Best or just completing your next run and actually ‘see’ yourself looking confident, strong, happy and satisfied that you’ve given it your all.
Make that mental image really big and bright and really feel that achievement and what that will mean to you when you get there.
This also works really well with presentations, exams, etc, so keep this tip in your back pocket for any situations where you feel like a piece of motivational pie is just what you need.
6. Remind yourself of your goals
Remember your ‘why’ for running, what you want to achieve and what your goals are.
If you’re training for a race it can be a really good motivational tool to keep in mind when you’re running.
Even if you’re training for a relatively short race, you want to ensure you’re feeling good when you cross the finish line right! And the more training and allotted runs you complete, the better prepared you will be for race day.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail and no-one wants to stand on that start line wishing they’d trained more or pushed themselves a little harder. Believe me, I’ve been there and it’s not a great mindset to start your race off with.
If you stand at the start line and you can hand on heart tell yourself you’ve put in as much effort as you were physically and mentally able to, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
7. Run with someone that motivates you
This can be a really tricky one to navigate because you may have a running buddy who doesn’t do much running and they’re there for the social aspect.
That’s totally fine and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a social running buddy but if they aren’t going to motivate you or keep you running when you want to stop, it might be time for a few solo runs or a different running buddy for the runs you want to get a little more out of.
Ideally, you need someone who is going to distract you and motivate you to run that little bit further, that little bit faster, that little bit stronger so try and find someone that fits these criteria where possible.
8. Run faster, done faster
Have a treat waiting for you at the end of your run.
If you’re in a race setting, this may be a little easier as a finish line, spectators or a shiny new medal is much more appealing than an abrupt end.
Is cake your motivation for running? If your finish line is your front door, focus on the gorgeous naughty piece of cake you have waiting for you at home.
Cake isn’t your thing (are you mad)? Why not picture a warm bubble bath or even a chill out on the couch. Anything that you can celebrate with when you’re done.
9. Don’t be so hard on yourself
If you really feel like your heart isn’t in it, you’re feeling like you’re drained or you’ve got a lot of things going on outside of running, don’t beat yourself up if you turn around and go back home.
Not every run is going to be an amazing run but if you ask yourself the question ‘did I give it my best shot in the moment’ and the answer is ‘yes’, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
If you do turn around and head back home, don’t feel defeated. Make a mental plan to switch your planned run for another day or even later on the same day if you have the time.
And if you’ve stopped because of a niggle or injury, a rest day isn’t going to harm your progress, but a more serious injury might end up putting you out for months.
I hope you’ve found some of these mental tricks to keep running useful and at least one of them helps you when you’re struggling.
What tips and tricks do you use to keep going?