If you aren’t reaching your goals or are struggling through runs, don’t automatically blame your legs — it may be your brain’s fault. More often than not, we get in our own way. In fact, no runner is immune to self-sabotage. It is normal to have a bad workout here and there or come up against some tough mileage. However, if you’re skipping workouts or — on the other end of the spectrum — pushing yourself too hard, it may be time to reflect and refocus. Is there really an issue you should address with your coach or does it require some mental training?
“Runners are notorious for self-sabotage,” confirms Alison Staples, a runner and Baltimore-based running coach for Charm City Run. “The most common [is] comparing themselves to others. We spend so much time mindlessly scrolling through social media, absorbing everyone else’s paces, diets and glorification of little sleep, that we miss the beauty in creating our own journey.”
We rounded up three of the most common forms of self-sabotage for runners — and how to get over the mental hurdle and keep moving forward.
THINKING YOU AREN’T A REAL RUNNER
Mental training is a huge part of running and owning the fact you are a runner is one of the best ways to stop sabotaging yourself. Think about it: You’re more likely to skip workouts or not give your all if you are constantly saying, “Well, I’m not a real runner anyway, so it doesn’t matter.” This includes calling yourself a jogger versus a runner. If you lace up your shoes and get out there for a workout you are a runner; it doesn’t matter what your pace is or if you take breaks to walk.
“Master how you talk to yourself and you will master your universe,” Staples affirms. “If you lace up and put one foot in front of the other and do that faster than you normally walk, you’re a runner … Every runner struggles with the same insecurities and doubts about their capabilities. Cheer for yourself the way you would cheer for your favorite runner.”
Staples refers to this mentality as imposter syndrome. If you’re out there putting in the work, you are the real deal. It’s best to stop comparing yourself to other runners and instead use their successes (and failures) as a form of motivation (and lessons learned).
HAVING AN ALL-OR-NOTHING MENTALITY
Of course running doesn’t always take the top spot in our never-ending list of daily tasks. But if you find appointments and obligations spilling into the time you’ve allotted for a run, it’s always better to get some miles in than no miles. It is easy to think, If I can’t get the whole run in, I may as well just skip it altogether and try again tomorrow. Training shouldn’t be all-or-nothing; just do what you can with the time you have.
“It’s often the longer training runs that runners sometimes don’t have time to do, but you have to train your body to run long distances if you’re going after a long-distance race,” explains Staples. “My suggestion is to break the run up into morning and evening sessions. You aren’t getting the benefits of continuous time spent on your feet or training your body how to run with depleted energy, but you will stay on target with your weekly mileage.”
Staples goes on to reveal the secret to being a better runner is to run, so if you’re treating training as all-or-nothing, you’re missing out on some crucial opportunities to improve. While you should stick to your training plan as close as possible (barring injury, of course), it is important to not use the busyness of everyday life as an excuse.
DOUBTING THE PROCESS
Making the mistake of running too far or too fast — or too far and too fast — is an easy thing to do; however, this kind of impatience can lead to overtraining or injury that may stop you from running altogether. It can be hard to hold back if your coach advises a slower pace or to keep yourself from adding too much mileage, but it is important to trust your training plan.
“The fastest way to get faster is to slowly build mileage and run more miles at a slower pace,” says Staples. “[It] sounds backwards, but you will never build endurance if you burn fast and have nothing left in the tank. Most runners get injured because they either add too many miles too soon or try to go too fast too soon before the body has adapted to the high stress running puts on the body.”
Even if you feel like you can run farther than your scheduled run or feel like you can go faster at the start of a race, remember to trust the process. If you’re in need of a daily reminder, Staples suggests developing a mantra you can repeat during runs. Her go-to? “There will come a day when I can no longer do this; today is not that day.”