Avoiding Mental Blocks in Running

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As cliché as it sounds, if you were to tell me one year ago that I would be running a marathon this august, I would have never believed you. I've never really been a runner before; I was big into soccer when I was younger but that was about it when it came to cardio. Going on a run outdoors was never something I would think to do or ever enjoy doing. It’s funny how things change like that.  

I am still unable to recall why I made the decision to start running in the first place; all I recall is going online and searching for beginner running plans. From there I started with a whopping 6 minute walk and 1 minute jog, repeated 3 times, 3-4 days a week. Jogging for that full 60 seconds was, in all honesty, challenging, and all I remember saying to myself was "wow I am so out of shape." But, I kept up with the plan and by the end of week 8 I was jogging for a full 20 minutes without having to catch my breath.

 

A few weeks later, my dad informed me that the Ironman, which is originally in Penticton, BC, was cancelled and instead replaced by a German triathlon company called the Challenge. Originally the ironman is an event which can only be done by one individual, but the great thing about the Challenge triathlon is that it still has that feature, but also includes doing the ironman distance as a team. My dad and brother (who have both completed Ironman's before) asked if I wanted to sign up with them. Seeing that the Challenge was a year away, my response was almost an organic one, agreeing without hesitation. My dad will start us off with a 4.2km swim, then my brother doing a 180km bike ride, and myself finishing off the day with a 42.2km run this August. I’m not going to sugar coat it: running is not always easy, nor is it always fun. Unless you are a person who absolutely loves running, you will encounter road blocks along the way. One of the most prevalent being mental blocks. Running is largely a mental game; you can be in the best shape of your life but if your head isn’t into it, you won’t make it very far. So, how does one win this mental game? Here are some of the strategies that have worked for me:

 

· Amp yourself up:

Before any of my long runs, I set a timer on my phone for 5 minutes, find a quiet space, sit comfortably on my yoga mat, and somewhat meditate for that time. I put a timer on my phone so that I don’t get distracted by how short, or how long a time I’ve been sitting. I just close my eyes and listen to the voice in my head. Most often I say things like “you can do this,” “I’m a runner,” “just breathe,” etc. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as it’s positive for you. Then when that timer ends, you can start your run in a really positive mindset.

 

· Make yourself accountable:

If you are running with a goal of weight loss for example, it can be really hard to keep yourself motivated. Find a few friends and sign up for a race. When you know you have a deadline, and have committed to something, it makes it a lot easier to get off your couch and be active.

 

· Understand the difference between ‘pain’ and ‘hurt:’

Hurt is that feeling where your body is trying to tell you to stop and not push yourself further, but you aren't in a situation injure yourself or cause permanent damage if you continue. Pain is when you have gone too far and are at risk for injury and/or permanent damage. The funny thing about the human body is that your mind will tell you to stop way before you really reach your breaking point. Your mind tries to stop you because it knows that if you keep pushing yourself; your body will start to change. This is one of the many things that I have learnt from yoga and am able to incorporate in running. When you are in class, and holding a pose that is challenging, your mind tries to tell you to ease out of it or stop completely. But then you hear your instructor tell you there are only a couple more breaths and then that’s it. And suddenly it's not that hard to hold that pose anymore; that even though it may hurt, your body is still supporting you and not letting go. It's the same with running; you always see these people who look like they cannot take anymore, but then with one hundred meters to go, they suddenly have this new found energy and find the strength within themselves to push forward. When you think you've got nothing left, there’s always a little bit more.

 

· Assign yourself a mantra:

One of my personal favorites is telling myself that the voice in my head telling me that I can’t do this, is a big fat liar. It sounds pretty cliché, but it works for me. And this is something that extends beyond running too into everyday life. Find a mantra that clicks with you, and repeat it to yourself when you find yourself wanting to stop.

 

· Change it up:

If you run the same course every time, after a while you start to remember where each km is on the course. If I know exactly where the 3km mark is on a 5km run, I start to gauge my energy and find it harder to keep my pace because I know exactly how much is left to go. Keep a general goal in mind of where you want to run, but don’t lock it down. Just run wherever you feel like going. When this happens, you aren’t aware of where each km is and it makes it way easier. Then when you get home, track where you went online if you don’t have a running watch with a GPS that records your route.

 

 

 

There will be days when you don’t feel motivated or find yourself making up excuses. And if you are stuck in that mindset, just remember that the moment right before you start is the scariest. Once that run is done, you will feel ten times better than when you started and you’ll be proud of what you just accomplished. The only workout you regret is the one you didn’t do. Simply put, through all this, what I'm really trying to tell you is that even though something may be challenging, and if you just don’t feel motivated, that if you stick with it, you will start to see a change. Nine months ago I could barely jog for a full minute, and now I find myself running for over two hours with very little breaks. I am still floored that this has become reality. Combining yoga with my training has kept me grounded and still continues to teach me things that can apply to running, and in everyday life.

 


There are times when I'm running, and I am reminded of how far I've come, and I cannot help but smile and laugh a little about the whole thing. I probably look a little silly, and maybe even seem a little strange, but it's what keeps me going, and it’s going to carry me all the way through to race day and beyond it.


- Taylor Nystad