The psychology of running

They say, “Dig deep” on a tough run, but how do we do that? Here are strategies for dealing with critical situations.

You can use these for yourself or alter them to suit your method.

  • If I get too breathless, I will run at a pace that feels like I can run forever.
  • If I’m staring at the ground and feeling weighed down, then I will look up to try and find a nice photo subject.
  • If I want to quit early, then I will focus on completing a mini-goal or route section so I feel hopeful.
  • If I worry about my time or pace, I will remember my fundamental goal is to stay healthy so I can keep running.
  • If my shoulders get tense, I will rotate my arms to ease the ache.
  • If my legs/hips/calves hurt, I will count to ten and practice good form.
  • If I am really struggling, I will “Embrace the suck”.

We can face That Dark Place on a tough run, as I’ve seen someone call it. We shouldn’t be going there every run. It’s probably best to only do it every couple of weeks to avoid burnout. Most training runs should be run easy.

But when you expect a run to be tough and you have contingency plans and strategies for critical situations, you create psychological endurance.

You will probably think negative or defeatist thoughts. Here are ways of digging deep when that happens.

  • Wear a symbolic item that reminds you of your strength and/or why you run.
  • Visualise completing your goal.
  • Remember friends’ compliments about your determination/commitment.
  • Use your senses: Hear the crowd’s encouragement or nature; see the interesting route; taste/drink some water/fuel; feel your skin to make sure you’re sweating and not dehydrated, feel the breeze.
  • Remember overcoming a great obstacle in your life. Think outside the run – remind yourself you can do this, you’ve done other hard things.
  • Swear, and let your monkey feelings out.
  • In a training session, remember the purpose of the workout and remember that performance is improved by trying hard.
  • In a race, remember your training, and how you’ve built up to this. Let it all fall into place.

Being prepared to face That Dark Place can help. Visualise a certain point in the route (e.g. 32 km) and rehearse seeing yourself overcome negativity at that point by remembering these strategies.

You don’t need to leave it all up to luck on the day.

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