A few weeks back I wrote about the mental side to running. In the post I talked about dealing with the boredom of spending a lot of time on your feet but, there is another mental aspect of running that needs to be addressed. It came up during a little twitter chat. The idea that you will run a race and your head will be telling you how much it hurts and how painful the whole thing is. Then when you finish you just know you could have put in a bit more effort and have gone a bit faster. The feeling that at that point where it got hard you couldn’t mentally push a bit harder and by the time you’ve finished there was still something left in the tank. It’s not easy. The chat made me think of my daughter who has just started doing parkrun regularly and watching the difference in her running over the last few months. When she started she would chat a lot, it would get hard and she would just walk. We were already doing a run walk routine but, she would spend more time walking than she really should. After a few weeks she began to stop less, sticking only to the run walk cycle my Garmin was dictating. She had stopped talking quite so much and I could see that she was approaching running with a whole new attitude. Mentally she was much tougher with herself and it showed at the end of the run. She was a hell of a lot more exhausted. Not only had the training made her stronger physically but it had helped her get stronger mentally.
Today I will give you a few things I have done while training in the hope of getting mentally stronger.
Plan routes where you have very little scope for cutting them short. Out and backs can be good for this because however far you have come, that is the distance you have to travel to get back. Two miles into a 10k run and you are hating it, it’s all a bit hard and you want to be back home. Bad news sunshine it’s a minimum of 2 miles back, you might as well finish the run properly and do the whole 10k.
Remember that usually it is only really hard for a short time. I usually find the first mile quite tricky, once I’m over that it gets easier. This is where all those distraction tricks can help, so can the sheer bloody mindedness of ‘I just have to keep this pace for a little longer to get this done.’ Just hanging on for the last mile of a parkrun is something I am often familiar with.
If you can’t do an out and back route be aware of where the danger points are. These are the places where if you just nip down the alley you can take a mile off, keep yourself distracted while you run past those tricky bits and job’s a good’n. Remember what you are trying to practice is the mentally hard bits of running. If you take the easy way out all the time you’re not exercising your will power.
Talking of exercising your will power and hard runs try a few hills. They are hard but they don’t last long and as well as improving your physical running they can help you be mentally tougher too. Looking up from the bottom and knowing what shit you are about to go through and doing it anyway. That’s hardcore. Even if you have to swear at them for just being so bloody… hilly.
When all of those little tricks start getting easier you can practice carrying on when it really gets tough. My last serious stretch of marathon training included some incremental tempo runs. These would start at a leisurely pace and gradually get quicker, so I would start at 10 min miles and end at around the 7 min mile mark. These would usually be about 5 or 6 miles and by the time you got to the last one it was a real mental struggle to make your legs work that bit quicker.
The greatest exercise for getting mentally tougher is running loops from your front door. When I trained for my first marathon I used a loop for my long runs. Every 5 miles I had the opportunity to slack off and just duck inside, so by the time I passed the house for the 3rd time on a 20 miler it was all feeling a bit hard. It certainly helped me to ignore the pain and carry on.
There you have it, 6 exercises I have used to try and get my head in the right place for pushing myself that bit harder and carrying on when things start to get a little tough.