Running mind games

#Run1000Miles ambassador Jess Guth on ways to push through the mental barriers in running


“We're playin' those mind games together. Pushin' the barriers, plantin' seeds”

I’m sure John Lennon wasn’t thinking about running when he wrote those lines, but every runner I have ever met seems to agree that running is mostly mental. For me that is certainly true now and the mind games certainly help me push barriers and plant seeds of further adventures that will push the boundaries even further. So in this blog post I want to share with you some of the tricks I play on myself to firstly make sure I shift my butt out the door and actually run and then some of the silly games and techniques I use to keep moving when the going gets tough.

Before I start with that though, a word of caution: The ‘all in your head’ thing is something that has not always been helpful. When I couldn’t run 100 metres, when I couldn’t run a mile, people telling me it was all in the mind was probably the singularly most unhelpful advice. Running only starts being in the mind when you can actually, you know, run a bit. So if anyone just starting out is reading this, if you can’t hear yourself think for the blood rushing round in your head, your legs feel heavy and strangely alien and – you know, ouch, your breathing sounds like a dragon with a head cold – you do not need to worry about your mind right now! One thing at a time. If you can keep getting the body moving, the mind will follow and at some point (and I can’t pinpoint when that happens) it will be your mind that starts making you stop not your body – then the second lots of tips are for you!

I am London Marathon training. It’s nearly over. I am tired and I am grumpy and I don’t really like running right now. But I have to (which is why I don’t want to). There are lots of tips on getting out – lay your running gear out ready the night before, sleep in your running gear (anyone tried sleeping in a sports bra? No thanks!), make plans to meet someone to go running with, have your routes planned, ‘virtually’ run with someone, have social media dates, tell people you are going to run, follow a plan so you can tick off each run, put the runs in your calendar like appointments….

Honestly, all of them might work for you. None of them really work for me consistently. When I don’t want to run, I don’t want to run and I can get anxious, tantrum-y and stubborn about it. The only thing that really helps get me out the door is giving myself permission not to go. Sometimes that takes the form of going out, but telling myself that if I get to the end of the road and am not feeling it I can turn back. Sometimes it’s just getting changed and allowing myself to come back in the house if I still don’t want to go once outside. Sometimes it’s just about saying, ‘fine, today is not the day for running then.’ Once outside I have never yet turned back and often, once decided I am not going, I change my mind. I think for me it is all just about taking pressure off and feeling like I don’t have to go. If I don’t have to usually want to and if I really really really don’t, well then I don’t run.

When out running, my mind always gives up before my body these days. It’s like I don’t really believe how far, how fast or how strong I can run

Now that spring is here, distractions and things to keep me going are so much easier to come by. Rather than having my head down trying to avoid cold rain getting in my eyes, I am looking round, counting daffodils, watching lamb gangs charge round fields, laughing at geese getting protective over canal towpath patches and marvelling at the different shades of green springing up everywhere. Soon there will be ducklings and somehow there is always enough left in the tank to make it to the next lot of ducklings and then the next and then maybe I’ll be rewarded with a flash of blue and orange and a glimpse of a kingfisher or the sight of a heron.

Running in spring requires far fewer mind games because it is so much easier to just enjoy being out but I’ll hang on to a few to get me round the streets of London where there are no lamb gangs and no herons.

Happy Running!