Solutions for the mental battle of running

How to make running easier mentally:
Overcoming negative thoughts when running

Everyone battles mentally with running – at least some of the time.  I’ve been coaching runners of all levels since 1998, and I’ve learned that it’s perfectly normal to battle with your own thoughts, and there’s some simple tactics that can help you win that battle!

What type of mental battle do you fight when you run?

Some of the thoughts you might experience:

How to make running easier mentally


The Complainer:

In your own head, or out loud to anyone who will listen, you repeat a constant stream of “This feels awful, I’m not enjoying this, My legs are tired, I’m out of breath, I hate hills…”


The Doubter:

You find yourself questioning your ability, despite the fact that you’re following a program or doing a run that is well within your capabilities.  “I won’t make another 2km, I’m no good at this, I’ll never get any better, I’ll never be ready for my fun run, I’m just not a runner…”


The Comparer:

You diminish your achievements and abilities by constantly comparing yourself to others running around you, or people you know.  “She’s running so much faster than me, I’m the slowest person here, Sarah can do 5 minute kilometres, Emma can run 10km easily, I’ll always be the slowest in class/amongst my friends…”


The Quitter:

You sneakily try to convince yourself to stop before you’re anywhere near finished.  You spend most of the run wishing you could stop, bargaining with yourself and dreaming of the end.  “You’ve done enough for today, Just stop here and turn back, Take the short cut home, Quit now and do more next time…”  Keep in mind it’s perfectly sensible to stop if you’re in pain, feeling like you’re working too hard or struggling too much!  However the Quitter looks to stop as the default mode – even if you’re not even working that hard you’re looking for a way out every time.


Recognise any of these?

I know I’ve experienced all four of them at some point in my life.  When we’re working harder, or a bit fatigued, it’s even more common for these thoughts to pop up.


Your mind can affect your performance much more than even your fitness, your experience and your talent.  If left unchecked it can be your own worst enemy and can make running unenjoyable, uncomfortable and hold you back from your goals.


Tactics for winning the battle against negative thoughts when running

Some of these tactics will appeal to you more than others, and some will work better at different times for you.  Over time, try them all out and see how you go.


Reassure yourself that you’ve done this before

You’ve run before and you’ve survived.  If you’ve run the same route, remind yourself of this.  If you’ve run the same distance, remind yourself of this too.  You can do today’s run because you’ve done similar before.


Remember your strengths

Think about all the previous running you’ve done and how strong and capable you are.  If you’ve completed fun runs, reminisce about when you crossed the finish line.  


Remind yourself of how far you’ve come

Think back to a time when you were less fit, you couldn’t run as far or as fast as you can now, your technique wasn’t as good, and you didn’t know as much about running as you do now.  You’ve come so far and you should celebrate that.  You’ve come this far because you managed to complete your runs despite some discomfort.  You will achieve even more if you keep persisting.


Set non-negotiables

To get through tough events or training sessions, I set myself a task (eg. Completing a hill at a particular pace, finishing another lap without stopping etc) and call it a non-negotiable.  I say in my head “You will do this.  This is not negotiable”, then complete the task, then set the next one!


Think of how awesome you’ll feel when you’ve completed the run

Imagine yourself writing down this training session in your training diary, on your calendar, or on social media.  Imagine how pleased and proud of yourself you’ll be.  Imagine enjoying your shower and recovery and high fiving yourself.


High five the character building

Think about all the times in your life you’ve worked hard at something a little tough or uncomfortable in order to achieve a goal.  You put your head down and did the work needed and you were so glad you did.  Every time you achieved one of your goals, it was woven into your character forever.  You felt more confident in your abilities to achieve anything you put your mind to.  Every one of your runs is a stitch in the tapestry of your next fitness goal, and that’s part of something even bigger – your character!


Distract yourself whilst staying in the moment

That might seem like an oxymoron, however it’s possible to draw your attention away from the inner complaints and concentrate on every detail of your technique, or your breathing, or the task/drill, the faces in the crowd watching your fun run, the other exercisers in the park etc.  Once when walking a significant distance with young children, I distracted them from the task by asking them to count how many dogs we saw along the way.  No complaints at all!  The same tactic will work for your own mindset.


Remain grateful

Think back to a time when you couldn’t run.  Whether it was before you learned to run and were much less fit, or whether it was when you were injured.  Remember how frustrated you were that you couldn’t run?  Do you know someone who’d love to run but can’t?  I like to remain grateful that I can run, and remind myself I’m running for all those who can’t.


Run with purpose

Why do you run?  If you run to train towards an amazing event, to feel fit and strong, to give you energy for your day or because it makes you so happy, then remind yourself constantly of these valuable reasons.  If you’re not sure why you run, or if you force yourself to do it in an effort to lose weight, you may struggle to sustain your commitment to it.  Work out your big reason for running, embrace it and think about it often!  If you really dislike running after giving it a really good try, then it’s ok to find something else active to do.


You CAN curb those negative thoughts and boost your running performance.  Not only will you run easier, faster and longer with a positive mindset, you’ll also ENJOY it and be more likely to stick at running long term and achieve all those goals you’ve set yourself.


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