(ICYMI: The introduction to my running journey: Tired Legs, Happy Heart.)
My 10k training program* has dramatically improved my fitness already, but I’m starting to notice mental benefits too. Elite athletes care a lot about the mental aspects of their sports, but the rest of us focus more on the physical gains we can make. My mind comes into the running game in 2 ways:
- my mind affecting my run
- my running affecting my mind in the rest of life
I was going to address both in this post, but this is already 1000 words long and I decided that you’re very nice to read my posts and I shouldn’t push my luck. So today we’ll just hit Part 1: My Mind Affecting My Run. Part 2 coming later this week.
*very informal, loosely based on a free program available from Hal Higdon.
My Mind Affecting My Run
All sports are mental, certainly, but running has some unique challenges. For one, it’s not a team sport and your practice times aren’t scheduled (unless you work with a partner). So you have to motivate yourself to run, no help from your team. Then, there are no external forces to drive you through the activity. For example, in soccer (which I played growing up), you just respond to what’s happening on the field around you. In running, you are responsible for pushing your body forward forever (ok, it just seems like forever). So I think running is maybe mentally harder than some other sports. Or at least very different.
Dealing with Distance
One of the great things about a training program is the incremental increase in distance. My long runs increase by only half a mile each week, which is a very manageable distance. A month ago, 5 miles was unrealistic to me, a distance that I wanted to run, but couldn’t fathom accomplishing. This weekend, I ran 5 miles with only mild trepidation. I knew, after running 4.5 miles last week, that I could add another .50. And as a first-time runner, each increase in distance is a new personal record (PR), which makes each long run a little cause for celebration.
I probably could have self-directed a training program, but I’m really glad I found an expert plan to follow. Instead of doubting myself, I trust the plan. Hal Higdon’s plan says I’m ready for 5 miles this weekend, so I can run 5 miles this weekend. This removes a lot of second-guessing and hand-wringing.
My first 2 runs of every week are manageable distances between 2-3 miles. The distances change very little throughout the plan, although my intensity is supposed to increase. But I love these runs because they are distances at which I am confident. I am not confident about running them quickly, but I know I can run 2 or 3 miles. That leaves only the long run for wondering whether I’m reaching too far. I couldn’t deal with that fear 3 times a week.
Dealing with Pain
If you follow running advice on literally any platform, you will hear a lot about injury. How to avoid it, how to notice it, how to heal it. Injury is a big deal to runners. Some sources have almost scared me into taking immediate rest any time I hurt.
Now, I’m very new to this, so really, don’t take my injury advice. But so far, most of my aches and pains work themselves out during the run. Side stitch? Breathe deeply and keep running. Cramping calves? Stretch out and keep running. Weird pain in foot? Worry and think about stopping and worry more, but change your stride, keep running, and watch it melt away in another mile.
^^I’m not a doctor or even a very good runner. Pay attention to your own body and be cautious with injuries.
Running is going to hurt. Your body does all kinds of weird things while running. And one joy of running longer distances was discovering that most of the aches and pains slide away in another half mile or so. I’m trying to pay attention for longer-lasting pain & possible injuries, but I’ve learned to accept and run through a lot of little stuff.
Ignoring the Numbers
On my training runs, I carry my phone and track distance and pace every half mile to mile, depending on how much I’m hating that particular run. This is helpful and, most of time, necessary.
For my 5k tune-up race, I didn’t run with my phone. It was a color run and I forgot the protective baggie I meant to carry. Also, the color run wasn’t time-focused, so there were no pace setters or time markers throughout the course. I determined to listen to my body and try to keep a consistent pace. In the end, I set a PR, running about a minute faster per mile than my usual pace.
Seeing numbers that our minds think are hard/impossible can make running those numbers hard or impossible. Sometimes, we just need to hijack our minds. It’s not feasible for every run, but try a few runs without the numbers in front of you and see what happens.
What about me?
What does my brain have to do with you? Well, I’m hoping that a few things will happen.
- You’ll share your mental running tricks in the comments and I can improve with them!
- You’ll be inspired to evaluate your running and identify how your mind has helped.
- You’ll realize that you’ve undervalued the mental aspect of running and consider how your mind can make your running better.
What if I don’t run?
If you’re a non-runner who follows my blog or stumbled on this, your voice is important too! The mental game is vital to everything, not just running or sports. How do you accelerate habit development with mental hacks? Do you use psychology on other people? (some might call it manipulation, but as long as you’re not causing bad things, I think it’s just a wise use of skills/resources…) Did any of my mental lessons spark your mind’s lightbulb? Let me know in the comments!