Moving Past Mental Running Barriers

First of all this says running but a lot of it is totally applicable to other sports as well, while maybe not the list of common ones but all the other stuff is. Any runner that trains for longer races is lying if they tell you they never had to break through a mental barrier. I would also put forward the idea that even if you never race, or plan to go further you’ve had to break through them too. As trivial as it might sound to have a hang up on one distance, time or little idea they can be mighty hard to move past. One might even be holding you from a dream right now! Even if you have just pushed through it and said nothing it’s good to know that it’s normal and you’re not alone. They can be ability focused, time focused or involve the possible perceptions by others. It really doesn’t matter if it’s common or rare, big or small if it’s real to you it can be really tough on the head. So find out what they are, why they happen, that you’re not alone and how to move past them.

What’s a mental running barrier

It’s something that looms larger in your mind than it should and that’s really it. It could be running a certain race, distance or for a certain amount of time or not being able to stop. For some unknown reason you doubt yourself and then fixate on that doubt. Rather than taking a wide view of the situation you narrow your gaze and then think ‘I can’t do that!’ Then pretty soon your worked into a proper funk and think the whole training cycle is going to pot since this ONE run isn’t going to happen. If you’re wondering about whether or not you have a metal barrier built up if you’re giving it more mental energy than any other run then you have at least a little one. If your thinking about it as you drift off or upon waking up and throughout the day then you’ve built yourself a big ‘ol mental barrier.

How mental barriers happen

The root of all of these mental barriers is self-doubt and that’s totally normal. I think that they happen for a couple of reasons depending on the mental barrier. Sometimes we focus on one (usually a long run) in the training program. For me it was the idea of running 16 km during my first half marathon training cycle one aspect was the idea that some (not me) say it’s not a long run until it’s 10 miles and we’ll get to letting others into your brain in a minute but… Having doubts about every single run is exhausting so we transfer that onto one specific run and just freak out about that one. It’s usually the one that freaked you out first when you initially read the plan. 

Next is letting other people’s experiences or pearls of wisdom into your own head, that’s what happened to me with the 10 miler. It’s sort of silly to say don’t read other’s experiences this day in age and chances are the good outweighs the bad anyway. But if you do end up with negative subliminal messages about a fitness blogger’s tough brick workout take it with a grain of salt and then remind yourself everyone has their own experience.

Lastly is the ones that happen for life reasons or at least that’s what you tell yourself. I’m kinda here now with the full marathon distance. I can’t step up from a half because I don’t have that kind of time for training, it’s mean to my family and friends that would have to put up with me, it would be too hard on my body and on and on. The truth of it is it scares me a little bit and for now I really don’t want to do it. Or is that just another lie/ mental barrier I’ve built up to protect myself?  Whatever reason you’re telling yourself to make a big deal out of something new it really doesn’t matter The key is to find a way give it less power than it has now and we’ll cover this at the end.

Here are some common mental barriers and what to tell yourself

  • I can’t run x distance (yes you can, other’s have)
  • I don’t have the time (maybe not but you’ll have to make time)
  • My injury will act up (not if you do the physio exercises preventatively)
  • I’ll never be able to run for x minutes straight (sure you will others did)
  • I’m too fat everyone will look at me (maybe but chances are they are thinking encouraging thoughts for the most part and thinking, good for her! I know I am)
  • I’ll never have a runner’s body (if you’re a runner you have a runner’s body)
  • I can’t sign up for a marathon because I’m embarrassingly slow (you’ll still have run a marathon though)
  • I don’t have time to give it my all so I’m not going to do it (some is WAY better than none)
  • What if _________ (that’s probably not going to happen or you’ll figure it out)
  • I can’t do a half because I can’t eat while I run (there are lots of options)
  • And the list goes on!

So how do you break through these barriers?

Arm yourself with information, preferably good information. Find a couple of good blogs in your sport like this one maybe, no pressure. Find a few sources you trust that seem to be filled of good information that rings true for you. Know that you can turn there when you need to. Sure follow, like and read people who you love that just tell you about their lives and training but seek out a couple that are more tips and tricks based and ideally keep an inspirational vibe. Follow instagramers that are just ahead of you in their running journey and not just professional athletes. One cool group of people are the Asics frontrunners and they’re very active on instagram. Asics sponsors regular runners form all walks of life and at every stage of their fitness journey and you might find you connect with this group of people a little more than Shalane Flanagan. Though I follow her and she totally rocks!

Find a good plan, trust that plan. I really don’t think a great training plan is just a chart because well I’ve followed training plans that are just a chart. As a minimum they should include a philosophy, an base to start the plan from and what to do if you get sick or have to skip a workout. Really I think they should have a training rational for the workouts, probably tell you that not withstanding a few slips every run is important, talk about injury prevention and set out goals for every week or at least break it down a bit beyond the race alone. Check out all of my training plans here for running and triathlons, they are many pages long and include all that good stuff above and a whole lot more!

Know that you’re not special, or especially fragile. I know or know of athletes, serious marathon runners (yeah internet) that accomplish their goals with things like Chrones disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke survivors, addiction issues and who are or started off obese. Even if you have some physical thing that you think might be holding you back I promise you someone else out there overcame something way bigger and then ran an ultra, a long one! As long as people put the time into a really decent training program they can literally accomplish anything anyone else has done.

It seams silly but repeat 2 positive thoughts for every negative thought for the duration of the plan. Tell yourself you can do it, it’s not that big a deal and that everyone else that reaches that point in training does it just fine. Think of someone else’s even bigger accomplishment and know that if they can do that you can do your thing too. Seriously at first its awkward but eventually it becomes a habit.

Finally fess up. Tell whomever you have that you’re freaking out about your next long run or whatever it is even if they’re not a runner. Truthfully honey is pretty terrible at the reassurance thing. He has never ever said “let’s sit and talk about this for a while. Why do you think you’re giving this one run so much power?” Instead it’s just “sure you can, don’t be so silly.” Even if it’s pretty far off the perfect thing to say it’s still pretty great to hear he at least doesn’t have any doubts. If you’re dealing with an unsupportive partner look to your other running friends or lacking that join some online (Facebook) running groups and look for support there. I really like the run like a girl community and there you’ll have tens of thousands of ladies to cheer you on and talk you through you mental barriers. If you’re looking for a more ‘colorful’ bunch of ladies the ‘run. Bitch, run’ group out of the U.K. are really supportive and really into gin! Sometimes just saying it out loud or typing it out and sharing it takes a lot of the power away from the big old thing you’ve built up in your head.

What helped you get over your mental running barriers? Sometimes you just have to push through and do it then for sure it will be gone. What was your biggest barrier you had to break through or the weirdest?

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