Ask yourself this; have you ever thought about giving up when your muscles are screaming, your lungs are heavy and your breathing is labored towards the end of your long run/race? Have you ever been injured / had to layoff and found it difficult to get back into your stride? Having trouble waking up in the morning for your training sessions and rather just sleep in? Ever wanted to run 5 laps but ended up with only 3 cos you just didn’t feel like continuing?
If you answered yes to one or more (or even all) of the questions above, read on.
The mind is a very complex subject, and I do not claim to be an expert motivator, but I have experienced many of such episodes over the years of running / training and I would like to share some of the methods to overcome the mental barrier.
I bet many of you have run a long distance race and mid or 3-quarter way through, your mind tells you that you are suffering badly, you cannot go on at this pace anymore, you need to stop and walk, you are on the verge of collapse. It feels like you are at the very edge of your physical limits already. And then, a miracle happens. 300meters from the finish line, with supporters and bystanders clapping and cheering, and photographers snapping away, you manage to pull out a sprint for the finish, hitting a pace where just moments ago you thought was humanely impossible. How does that happen?
The mind has a built in “safety first” mechanism, telling you that you should shutdown before you overload yourself. Now this is a double –edged sword, there are times when you should heed the warning signs and engage a safety first decision and not be all gung-ho as there could be severe repercussions. However, at other times (and most times), your mind will tell you that this is the limit of your capabilities, that you are tired, and you should stop. This is when you should start to persevere. Fight your mind games with positive mental notes of your own. Find ways to counter those thoughts.
When I hit a rut, mid-run, I try to get my mind off the run, off the number of kilometers I still have to go. What I do is, I think about other things. I think about business, about strategy, about new designs, catchy phrases, about short term plans and what is needed to execute these plans. Bottomline is, to get your mind off the monotony of the current run. Other times, if I find that I am not in the mood to work those grey cells, I pick out runners in front of me who have a pace that’s close to mine. I try to reel them in, try to close the gap and pass them. What I’m essentially doing is making short term goals and trying to achieve them. It helps in breaking up the long run into shorter ones and making it more manageable. Another way is to count lamp posts or the number of runners wearing yellow shoes (for example).
One method I use for my long training runs is to do an out and back run instead of multiple loops. If I plan a 30km run, I make sure that I run 15kms out before I make a turn and (even if there are other routes/ways to get home, they are at least 15kms long. With that in place, I can’t “chicken out” of the run and I’ll have to cover the 30kms even if it means walking home. I call it forced motivation in that I have no other choice but to “motivate” myself to finish the run and get home.
I also find that external factors (not within ourselves) can be a very strong source of motivation for us to achieve our goals. Some people run for a cause, for someone or something they believe in. I have a friend who helps out at an orphanage and when the going gets tough for her on a marathon, she starts counting down the kilometers with names of the orphans she works with. “Km32, this one is for Jay…. Km33, this one is for Kim…” It gives her the strength and resolve to finish; thinking of the hardship the orphans go through is motivation for her.
There are other times when you find yourself down with an injury or setback with a layoff from your sport. After recovery / rehab, you find that you do not have the motivation to get back into stride. You feel listless, you can’t wake up in the mornings, you trudge through your day, not missing the adrenaline you get from working out. It becomes a vicious cycle, the longer you stay off your training / racing routine, the lazier you get. It is true of what they say; a body in motion, tends to stay in motion; a body at rest, tends to stay at rest. How do you address this? Keep it in mind that even when you are injured, there are other forms of cross-training you can do that does not affect your injury. Stay active for as long as you can and work other muscle groups or incorporate other forms of activity into your routine. If you are currently on recovery mode, start by slowly increasing your activity levels. The more frequent you start working out again, the faster you will be back to your fitness levels pre-injury. How then do you give yourself the kick to push yourself back into racing mode? Try one or some of these few options here: Get a training buddy; join a sports group; socialize more with other members of the sporting community; look at old photos of yourself in races / events; get a new pair of shoes (for your sport) or a new piece of gear / equipment; sign up for a race.
Remember one thing. Mental strength is an important tool that most of us don’t work at hard enough. Winning the battle with your mind is just as important a victory as the run past the finish line.
Written by : Eugene Teoh, Team 2ndSkin Asia