Mental challenges during running – part 1

In this three-part set of posts, I’m going to be touching on some unique areas that can affect our mental performance and attitude when running.  Whenever putting extreme emphasis on training, there is a lot of psychological pressure that influences our thinking and performance. In sport, it is common to undergo pressures that we put on ourselves to perform our best and when challenged with difficult obstacles.

Whenever placing extreme emphasis on training, there is a lot of mental pressure that influences our thinking and performance. In sport, it is common to undergo pressures that we put on ourselves to perform our best and when challenged with difficult obstacles. Anxiety, Doubt, negative thinking, rigid goal setting and comparison to others, are some of the things the impact runners from all levels of experience.

Anxiety would be considered one of the most common mental strains for anyone approaching a race as your mind is overwhelmed with various decisions, doubts, and ideas that are usually out of your control. It could be how you physically feel, the weather outside, or the pressure of meeting a goal you may have given yourself. Finding a routine before your race can make the situation easier to handle. Yoga or listening to music could contribute to making you feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Doubt is a feeling when you question your ability to complete a given goal. Perhaps you are setting yourself a difficult challenge you’ve not yet faced, maybe a new distance or a unique run that you’ve not trained for. When I had my injury going into my first marathon, there was a cloud of doubt hovering over me as it was a big undertaking and I wasn’t sure if it could be achieved. I remember how I felt on the starting line looking out in front of thousands of runners. I had to remind myself I was about to run 42km and questioned how the heck I was going to do it. One mile at a time I told myself!

Comparing yourself to others is something that comes from our competitiveness as athletes and humans. When I began running and saw someone going past me, I would have the urge to try to speed up, but I eventually had to slow down, as I couldn’t keep up. Through training and learning more about training methods, I know that everyone is unique, and we all have different goals and races on the horizon.   With that in mind, I can’t compare myself to anyone else.

Negative thinking occurs when you have a sense of doubt about your ability and start to create negative assumptions surrounding the reason why you may not be performing your best. I think it’s helpful to be more aware of your body and past experiences and then learn how to silence these thoughts through rational thinking. Reminding yourself that everything you do wrong is a new lesson for next time and you can improve on these abilities. When running the last 10km of the half Iron, I started to have negative thoughts, and it got the better of me.  It reduced me to walking when I gave up and told myself it was okay to stop running.  We have to remember to have fun and enjoy the experience!

Rigid goals are when we push ourselves into an outcome with no other options. These goals overwhelm and put a lot of pressure on us to perform and can give rise to doubt and negative thoughts. You should try to have alternative outcomes so that the pressure of one doesn’t have a massive load on your shoulders. When calculating my finish time during the half Iron race, I began to give myself rigid goals by pushing myself to get less than two hours on the run so I could get an overall finish time under six hours. The pressure got too much, and I let myself stop too many times. I couldn’t be certain how long I had been racing, which meant it wasn’t clear how much time I had left. I wanted to run harder to hit my rigid goal, but I was nearly burnt out and had no energy. In the end, I ran for 2 hrs and 11 minutes and missed out on my under six-hour goal by only two minutes! My mind got the better of me!

I think we can reduce the stress of an event or goal by breaking it up into small parts and only focus on the moment.  You have to remember everyone is different too and you can’t compare yourself directly with anyone.  There are many factors out of our control and we have to understand that. I think the most important thing out of anything that I have learnt is to have fun and enjoy the competing side of events and the journey of discovery through training.  If I find myself stressed or unhappy then I have to rethink why I am doing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s