I think it probably safe to say that my biggest challenge in running and fitness, is the mental game, the need for mental stamina in the face of pain. There are countless times in training and racing, where I’ve found myself in a mental rut that is hard to get out of.
Having confidence and believing that you can achieve something can be as important as hours and miles of training. I can honestly say that I have downright given up on myself mid training run and mid-race because of mental chatter that absolutely ruins me. I have crossed the 21k timing mats in marathons and actually believed that it would be totally reasonable to call it a day, even after training for months.
Okay. So, how can we deal? I’ve heard lots of great advice over the years. I will share a few things that have stuck with me and been effective. For me, most of this stuff applies to running, but I think it extends to lots of other areas of fitness and life.
It actually amazes me how effective creating a mantra, or a few, can be. I was definitely a skeptic until I realized that the negative mental chatter would come a little too easily and you need something, anything, to shoot it down.
Keep it simple, make it something that reminds you of why you are out there sucking air at 6am. I hope I do not embarrass myself here…I have used “fitter, stronger, faster” on repeat x1000 on many tempo and interval runs. I have used those same three words when I am chasing someone down in a race, telling myself that I am fitter, and stronger, and faster, than the person in front of me.
Training to boost confidence
About a year ago, I read Matt Fitzgerald’s book - Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel. He talks a lot about learning what builds your confidence and then focusing on that type of training. For example, if you feel on top of the world after doing mile repeats, but feel crap about your fitness on tempo runs, you should spend more time doing intervals! That is not to say you will not need to do ANY of the workouts you do not particularly like, but maybe less of them.
It is a simple concept that is pretty easy to apply. Unless, you are like me, and you are not totally sure what increases your confidence. The first step, is finding out what you like, what makes you feel like you are going somewhere and getting even a little bit closer to your goals. Over the last few weeks, I have been putting any number of + or - signs next to my running log to get a sense of what might work for me.
Believe your friends
Here is the thing, when I am deep into a training plan, I can be awfully vulnerable to my emotions and how I feel about one particular run. If I have a rough run I can easily fall into believing that the single run defines me, which is just bad news! Friends, a trainer, or a coach has an objective view of your fitness, they are not tied to the emotions we ourselves hold, and they can provide true insights. So, when a friend tells you that you look stronger, or are getting more consistent, or are nailing workouts, believe them wholeheartedly.
This one is super applicable to endurance sports because there is ALWAYS pain at some point during training and most definitely during racing. That being said, I think it applies to any fitness regime. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows on any fitness journey.
If you can anticipate and come to expect the inevitable suffering, you will not be totally blindsided when it smacks you in the face at the 35k mark of a marathon. You will not be totally devastated by the spectators that yell, “you’re almost there” (bless their hearts). You will probably be able to avoid smacking those spectators upside the head due their sheer lack of awareness about how freaking far the remaining 7km really is. Instead, you can get in the zone, repeat that mantra (see tip #1), and kick ass all the way to the finish line.
Ride it out
It comes in waves. The constant excuses, the loss of will, the belief that you are not good enough, or fit enough, or fast enough - it might last moments, or kilometers, or hours. Or, it might last weeks and months. The one thing I do know is that it passes. Let the emotions go. Not every thought that crosses your mind is truth.
AND, the best news is that I wore shorts on my run today!
Originally posted over at Blitz Conditioning.