Few people warned me about the psychological challenges of winter running, or of running long distances.
Nothing can really prepare you for how your muscles stiffen and slow, how your chest and lungs start to burn, or how your body reacts by quickly filling your bladder. Wearing a warm base layer helps, but once your mind decides that watching Doctor Who and eating an entire bag of Party Mix would be a better idea, all bets are off. No matter how fit you are, if laziness sets in or a fit of self-doubt hits during a run, you feel every joint, every ache, and every little pain.
If I didn’t have an encouraging running buddy to remind me of what a good butt I’ll have if I keep going, my training would suffer.
But to remain strong when I’m running on my own, it’s important to train mentally. When internationally renowned sports psychologist Dr. Peter Jensen spoke to our running group in February, he highlighted a four-pronged approach that every athlete should develop and strengthen to train mentally:
- Perspective: It’s not the end of the world if you have a “bad” run. You still got out there and ran. Way to go!
- Energy Management: Focusing on the cold, aches, and pains takes energy away from your run. Use that energy to let your body do what you’ve been training it to do.
- Focus: On what you’re doing, not how you feel or when it will end. And use…
- Imagery: Literally imagine how a good run (for you) should look and feel. I like to pretend I’m in a dystopic world where I live underground, and this is my first time out in years so I feel free and weightless and so incredibly happy.
So if you’re cold, or it’s a particularly tough run, remember: it’s not the end of the world. Stop over-thinking, let your body do its thing, and enjoy the freedom from the nuclear post-apocalyptic zombie-filled world afforded to you by your run.
Learn to fear hills and stairs in Susan’s flagship training diary entry.
Image: Dr. Who, a man who knows a thing or two about mental toughness.