How Runners Can Motivate With Healthy Self-Talk

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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How Runners Can Motivate With Healthy Self-Talk

Ever find yourself feeling defeated mid-run, like you might as well just walk your way home? Does it ever get easier? Or what about during a race, when you can see a person ahead of you, but convince yourself there’s no way you’ll ever catch him or her. Welcome to negative self-talk. We all do it, but we don’t have to let it control how we run.

Being positive is hard, even for the most accomplished runners out there. Here’s what you need to know to change your internal narrative next time you hear that voice telling you you’ll never be the runner you want to be:



One of the main reasons we get stuck in negative self-talk loops is because we honestly don’t notice when they’re happening. We start feeling bad on a run, and we just accept it’s how we feel. The first step to breaking the cycle isn’t changing to positive self-talk, it’s simply catching yourself being negative in the first place. Just noticing it’s happening goes a long way toward getting rid of it altogether. If a run is especially hard, or your feel less motivated than normal, check in with your thoughts. Then, imagine you’re encouraging your best friend — and say to yourself what you’d say to your friend.



Developing a mindfulness or meditation practice can help you start to control the voices in your head. “Mindfulness is the ability to see what’s happening in your head at any given moment, so that you don’t get carried away by it,” says Dan Harris in “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.” If you can train yourself to acknowledge thoughts and then release them by spending a few minutes a day practicing meditation, you can take that same skill with you on your run and as the negative thoughts happen, let them go.



Pre-empt your negative thoughts by crowding your brain with positive ones. Write a positive mantra somewhere you’ll see it before you head out on your runs, or think of a short one you can write on your hand so you have an in-run reminder. If mantras aren’t your thing, practice gratitude. Take a moment to be grateful you’re running and are able to push your body — you’re not injured, you’re not stuck on a couch, you’re up and running and lucky for it.



Simple, but probably the most effective in-the-moment way to turn your negative self-talk around. If you’re in that dark place and no positive mantra is boosting you out of it, try the physical route. Move your mouth into a smile — it might feel like a grimace at first — and hold it for a few seconds. When you smile, you actually shift your brain chemistry, giving yourself a shot of dopamine. It helps you decrease stress, lifts your mood and even relieves pain. It might just take that minor shift to completely change your mood.



Writer Kurt Vonnegut has a million great lines, but when I’m in the middle of a run and finding myself in a funk, I pause. I do a body scan: Is anything actually wrong? I look around: I’m outside getting my exercise for the day, I’m not on a work call or hunched over a desk. I listen: Sometimes, I can hear birds chirping, other times, a great song is playing on my headphones. And I remember Vonnegut’s advice: “Please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’” Try it on your next run — it’s a game-changer.



Don’t do this during your run, but if you find yourself constantly in the negative self-talk zone, it might be time to reassess your training and racing goals. Is your self-talk negative because you’ve set yourself up for failure, expecting to win races when you’re new to the distance, or assuming you’ll PR on every training run? It’s easy to feel down on yourself if your expectations are so great that you don’t stand a chance of succeeding! If your training and racing goals seem reasonable, it might be time to consider something even more basic: If you start going negative toward the end of most runs, you might simply need to eat or drink more during your training — sometimes, being hungry or mildly dehydrated can mess with our moods, as well as our performance.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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