Whether you’re at mile 10 on a long, marathon-training run or a few minutes into a short jog around your neighborhood that’s supposed to be fun, odds are at some point you’ll hit the proverbial wall and question why you love running at all. Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, a run coach at Under Armour’s performance center in Baltimore, Maryland, says it happens to all runners — even the pros.
“I’ve actually had this thought, in the middle of a race: ‘If I fall down now and break my ankle, I don’t have to keep going,’” says Gallagher-Mohler. “Every runner has had some variation of this, whether it’s telling yourself you have to stop to tie your shoe or use the bathroom or getting down on yourself for being slow or weak. They’re all just distractions from fatigue.”
The problem is these distractions eat away at your confidence. Which is why it’s especially important to stop any negativity before it picks up steam. Luckily, these tactics can help prevent you from going down the rabbit hole of doom.
Oftentimes when we stop having fun running it’s because we’re mad at our bodies. Why does my shin hurt? Why is my 60-year-old neighbor faster than I am? Yet when this happens, you’re essentially going to war with your body, says Gallagher-Mohler, which only serves to worsen your performance and create a cycle of self smack-talk. The antidote? Simply thank yourself for putting in the work. “It’ll help you meet your body and mind with understanding and appreciation,” she says.
REPEAT A MANTRA
Repeating a word or phrase when you run helps take your mind off any negativity and even has the added bonus of helping you maintain a good cadence. One of Gallagher-Mohler’s clients repeats the phrase, Turn it over, let it go. “I love this because as she says this, it matches her feet hitting the ground,” she says. Your mantra could be something as simple or seemingly random as the word “purple.” It just has to mean something to you and make you feel like a total badass, says Gallagher-Mohler. Then, you have to practice it. “Repeating a mantra during your run will only work if you use it when you train,” she adds.
GET OUTSIDE YOURSELF
If you’re racing and starting to get down on yourself, let your eyes stay fixed on the calf muscles of the runner in front of you. “It’ll put you into a rhythm, similar to what music can do,” says Gallagher-Mohler. “Plus, it helps transport you outside yourself, so you stop focusing on your pain.”
SET MINI FINISH LINES
Choose something ahead of you — say, a light pole, tree, building or some other stationary object — and tell yourself, “OK, I’m just going to focus on getting there.” Then, choose another object and do the same thing on repeat as many times as you need to. “Building in many small goals can be a great way to cover the course of a long goal,” says Gallagher-Mohler.
NUDGE YOURSELF INTO A FLOW STATE
Ideally, all of these mind games are training you to ultimately think less when you run, says Gallagher-Mohler. “When you’re in a flow state, you’re simply executing,” she says. “You don’t have to think of how fast you’re going, how you’re moving your arms or how you’re breathing. You get to stop all of the mind chatter and just run.”
So, after some time using these mind games successfully, remind yourself they’ve been helping train your brain so you can get into the flow state — and love (almost) every minute and mile.