Use these expert tips to put your best foot forward next time you lace up your runners.
The mind can be a runner’s greatest weapon and an Achilles heel.
Harnessed effectively, it’s helped mere mortals achieve superhuman feats of athleticism and endurance. Think: Roger Bannister’s first sub-four-minute mile in 1954, Eliud Kipochage running the first sub-two-hour marathon in 2019, or the hundreds who complete the sweltering 250 km-long Sahara Desert run Marathon des Sables every year.
Your mind can, however, just as easily scupper your best laid running plans, whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned veteran. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. My legs ache. My times are rubbish…
Doubts and fears can quickly overwhelm your thoughts midway through a run – or before you even begin. But, these mental hurdles can just as effectively be overcome with the right mindset and practical advice.
We spoke to three expert running coaches for audio-led fitness app WithU, on the most common mental blocks afflicting the running community and how best to beat them.
“As humans, we’re hardwired to fear failure. It’s especially common among young runners. It can lead to anxiety, low confidence, resistance to running altogether and a lack of self belief. But, as with anything you fear, it’s always worth facing it head on.
"Acknowledge your fear, then take positive actions to reframe it mentally. Remind yourself why you are running and what you’re working towards. Finding a running partner with a similar goal is another great way to overcome this mental block. They’ll keep you on track when you’re wavering and vice versa.” – Omar Mansour, former competitive 800m athlete and running coach at WithU
“Trust me, you’re not the only one who feels this way. It’s natural. You’ll have good days and bad days, so it’s vital you accept that no run will be perfect. Instead of chasing that ‘perfect run’, focus on the mental and physical benefits you’ll earn with every step. No matter what time you run, no matter how far, you’ll have banked another workout and you can take any lessons you pick up along the way into your next run.” – Tim Benjamin, former 400m Olympian, head of long sprints and relays for British Athletics and Chief Product Officer at WithU
Next time the going gets tough, Benjamin suggests using this “hot air balloon” visualization cue:
“Imagine there is a hot air balloon gently lifting you up from your head, helping make you as light on your feet as possible. The hot air balloon will help straighten up your posture, expand your lungs and reduce impact on your joints.”
“It's common to lose motivation when starting out on your running journey, to forget about that endorphin-charged runner’s high you can feel at the end of a run. That’s why it’s essential to remind yourself exactly why you started running in the first place. Decide on a clear goal with a clear timeframe, like to complete your first ParkRun, charity 10K or simply increase your daily step count. Establish your why, then write it down, book it up and tell your friends so they hold you accountable to it.” – Omar Mansour
“Procrastination afflicts runners just as much as office workers. I’ll often come up with a million excuses why I don’t have the time or enough energy to run that day. But I’ll always come back to the thought of how great I know I’ll feel at the end of a run – come rain or shine – and how much this will help me complete the rest of my tasks that day.
"To reduce the chance of you putting your run off, schedule it into your daily calendar, just like you would with a work call, whether on a weekday or weekend, and let your housemates or colleagues know so they keep you honest.” – Omar Mansour
“Injuries aren't inevitable. They can happen – but typically because you have overtrained or haven’t recovered properly post run. To minimize the risk of injury when you start out, stick to no more than three relatively short runs per week and always give yourself at least 10 minutes to stretch after a run.” – Rory Knight, running coach, celebrity trainer and Performance Director at WithU
To further reduce the risk of injury when running, Rory recommends incorporating a full body mobility stretching session into your weekly training. Have a read of our stretch routine guide for a starter.
“Progress takes time. Improving your personal best won't happen overnight, but with perseverance and a clear plan it will improve. To give you the best chance of getting faster, it’s vital your training includes a mixture of strength, running and stretching sessions that will gradually help improve your speed and stamina over an eight week block.
"Why eight weeks? Realistically you need to commit to a plan for this long to improve your speed. There are no such things as quick fixes. But, if you’re consistent with your training, I promise you’ll start chalking off those PBs.” – Omar Mansour
“There will be days when you really can’t face lacing up your trainers. When the warmth of your bed, or the call of the pub, is too inviting. But these are the days that really count. In moments like these, use baby steps. Start by simply putting your running kit on. Next put your headphones on and hit play on your favorite running playlist. Get outside and start walking. Pretty soon you’ll break into a run and, trust me, you won’t regret it!” – Omar Mansour
Words: Sam Rider
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