Ready To Race: The Mental Battle Of Running

If you didn’t manage to watch any of the Boston Marathon this past Monday, worry not, the London Marathon is only three days away! There’s something special about seeing tens of thousands of people line-up at the starting gates, ready to set off on a grueling 26.2 miles, beaming with anticipation. It’s a true feat of passion and endurance – and we highly recommend tuning in to catch some of the race footage this Sunday. In the words of the storied Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”. While we won’t be lacing up ourselves, we’ll definitely be watching and cheering for every runner on that course come Sunday.

With the London race nearly upon us, we got thinking about the multitude of marathons that will take place worldwide this spring and summer – and that inspired us to look at what it takes to commit to a running lifestyle. Of course there is the physical fitness component, but trust us when we say that anyone – barring injuries – can be a runner. As with anything, it takes consistency, effort, and a lot of motivation. But there’s no denying that running is physically tough. Shaky legs, a stitch in your side, and labored breathing can all attest to that! Trust us – we’ve been there before too… Even the most experienced runners, professional athletes, and seasoned marathoners will agree that it’s a constantly challenging workout. But when you really get down to it, one of the hardest parts of running is the mental toughness that you need to summon every time you lace up.

To truly make running a part of your life and exercise routine, you have to make a mental commitment as much as a physical one. Getting into running demands a conscious choice to get those legs moving almost every day. Sticking with running requires fueling that inner drive that pushes you on. You have to dig deep and find something that propels you forward when your brain says, “hey, we don’t like this anymore, let’s just stop.” The thing is, our bodies are able to push through a lot, and more often than not it’s your mind that makes you stop running, not your body.

So if running is such a physical and mental challenge, why do we do it? Because it’s an exercise than can make us feel so incredibly good. It’s a fitness routine that you can take anywhere. It’s a workout that only requires that you show up, no equipment and no costs necessary. It’s something that only belongs to you. And that’s why we love it. So in the spirit of marathon season and celebrating one of the oldest exercises in human history – we’ve got our top tips on how to build and maintain mental toughness when it comes to running.

Maintaining Mental Toughness with Running

1. Building consistency… If you’re new to running, or getting back into it after a long hiatus, it’s really all about fighting through the first 3 weeks. You’ll want to set a schedule based on your personal fitness level, but the best thing you can do is to get out 3-4 times a week, even if they are for short runs (yes – 10 minutes counts!). Ultimately, it’s about doing what you can and focusing on getting into a rhythm. Changing our habits can be really hard, but we promise you can get through those first few weeks. When you do, you’ll be surprised by how your body, and more importantly your mind, will be in sync with a steady running schedule.

2. Adding variety… These brains of ours can get bored pretty quickly. So, if you’re running on the same treadmill every week, or doing the same distance at the same pace, you’ll soon tire of the task. Keep your mind engaged and challenged in different ways by mixing up your running workouts. To answer your next question, yes, there are different types of running workouts! You can go on long runs at slower paces through the park, or a few speed intervals at your local track or on a trusty treadmill, or crank out some hills in your neighborhood.

3. Picking a purpose… When you make the decision to commit to anything, ask yourself every day what it is that drives you. Why are you going out for that run? What does it mean to you? What do you want to achieve? The best part: you alone get to define this for yourself. Maybe you’re hoping to set a new personal best for time; maybe you’re doing it for your health; maybe you’re running in a race that supports a cause or charity close to your heart. Find what drives you and don’t let go of it, because it’s what will get you out the door every time.

4. Accepting that it won’t always feel good… Having a bad run is like having a bad day – they are inevitable, but hopefully they’ll come less often than the good ones. The key is to know how to react when you have a bad run. If it’s really not going your way, all you have to do is slow down, turn around, and try another day. It’s all about keeping your relationship with running positive, and use bad runs as a chance to think about what went wrong. Maybe it was what you ate that day, maybe you were a bit dehydrated, maybe you were exhausted from a long day, or maybe it was just a bad run. All you have to do is try again tomorrow.

5. Maintaining consistency… You’ve built up consistency, you’ve found what drives you, and you’ve established a good relationship to running. What comes next? Maintenance. This is where the fun starts, when running becomes easy enough so that it’s enjoyable but still hard enough to challenge you. Look for ways to have fun with it and make it fit into your life. You could join a running club and use it as a way to meet new people. You could start your mornings with an early run to help wake you up and energize you for the day ahead. You could use it to take a 20-minute midday break from work to increase your productivity for the afternoon. Or you could use running as a way to get into mindful meditation.

We’ll leave you with one more thought as a final bit of inspiration from Mina Samuels, author of Run Like A Girl“Our running shoes have magic in them. The power to transform a bad day into a good day; frustration into speed; self-doubt into confidence; chocolate cake into muscle.” 

So maybe the chocolate cake is a bit of a stretch – but hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying. Cheers to every runner racing in the London Marathon this Sunday and here’s to making magic with every stride.

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