How to keep going when it hurts
Top running tips to help you become mentally tough
Picture the scene. You’re 3 miles (4.8km) into your 10 mile (16km) long run in the pouring rain, when you feel an overwhelming compulsion to stop. There’s an ache in your knee, your back suddenly feels sore and more than anything in the world, you just want to stop and walk home. Well the first thing to do is take comfort in the fact that all runners have experienced something similar. When your training gets tough, for whatever reason, it can be a huge mental battle to keep going, but the good news is, you can win it.
The key to a successful running career at any level is the ability to control that voice in your head that is telling you to stop. One of the best things to do as soon as you feel negative about what lies ahead of you on your run, is to break it down into manageable chunks. Yes the notion of 7 more miles (10.2km) may well seem suddenly overwhelming. So instead of grappling with the whole distance in your head, just think about the next mile. By making that your next target you immediately relieve the pressure. Tell yourself you only have to do the next mile and then you can stop if you want. More often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised by (a) how quickly that mile passes and (b) when you’ve finished it, you want to run the next one.
Any aches and pains will pass (unless it’s a genuine injury of course) and suddenly the run becomes easier and you will get through it all. If a mile is too much to contemplate, make your target a landmark in the distance, just choose anything to keep your legs turning over and get through the bad patch. The chances are that’s all it is and all you have to do is keep running through it until you come out the other side. Remember you are in control of that voice in your head and you have the power to change what it says.
Take a break
Another important consideration is to try and give yourself a break. Every elite runner that has ever lived has had a bad run. We all have them and more often than not they can come out of nowhere for no apparent reason. Tiredness, stress, over-training, not enough training, diet, nutrition, dehydration, illness, any number of reasons can explain a poor run. The test of the runner is how you deal with it. Write it off as simply that and find a way to keep going. You’ll feel so much stronger physically and mentally if you can get through it.
Distraction is a great technique to use when you find yourself in the middle of a poor session. That can be anything from changing the mood music on your iPod if you have one, to chanting out loud or humming the theme tune to something inspirational. Choose something that means something to you and immerse yourself in it. That can include simply visualising the race you are aiming for. Picture yourself sprinting over the finish line, looking strong and happy. Paint a mental picture of the patient you are fundraising for or just lose yourself in your own thoughts. You need to find a way to stop thinking about what hurts and start thinking about something more positive.
Part of the pleasure of running is in the pain runners put themselves through. It will hurt sometimes when you train to run a marathon because 26.2 miles is a crazy distance to actually RUN. Yes run. Of course there will be times when your body will want to break down and try to make you stop running, but most of the time it’s just the mental battle going on between your ears, not anything physical. Other times the aches and pain will be real, but if it’s nothing serious, it can be conquered. And that is part of the joy of running. You can be safe in the knowledge that it will hurt at times but also know that you are part of a huge community who put themselves through exactly the same pain barrier.
Slow it down
There will also be those sessions where you know you really can’t maintain a certain speed, but you feel you can keep running if you slow down a little. If that’s how it feels, then do that. You don’t have to destroy yourself if it really isn’t there on a particular day. Sometimes you have to accept the reality that for whatever reason your body isn’t working at its optimum, but if you can keep running, albeit at a slower pace, then that is still a significant achievement. You are still winning the mental battle with your inner voice by toughing it out and even if the run isn’t as fast as you would like, you have always got the miles under your belt, so it’s all good.
Know when to stop
Having said all of that you will also know better than anyone if the pain you are experiencing is genuine. Anyone who runs regularly will have to become accustomed to their body and how it functions. So if it is a bona fide injury, you need to pay attention to it and stop running if you feel you are risking sustaining further damage.