Your brain is always on the look out for messages from your body. Tired? Your brain says you should stop. Breathing very hard? Oh definitely, the couch is much more friendly than running. Muscles getting very sore? Who thought this running thing was a good idea?! Your brain will spend a lot of time telling you that you need to slow down, walk or stop. Training your brain is as much a part of running as intervals and foam rolling.
Non-goal races are a great place to practice these skills and what will work for you can take some time to discover. Practicing different strategies for the inevitable difficult times during training and non-goal races will help you better deal with the discomfort of racing AND help you achieve your goals.
These are some common ways of learning to deal with discomfort. Even with realistic goals there is discomfort. However, we do want you to be aware of pain which is different than the discomfort of hard effort. If you have sharp pain and are at risk for an injury then slow or stop if you need to. There is always another race! Try some of these simple strategies and learn what works best for you!
Break it Up
When one more mile seems like forever, break it up. Run to the next tree and then pick another. If you run a mile in 12 minutes, remind yourself that you can do anything for 12 minutes. If running longer miles, break it up so that you are running in manageable chunks. Thirteen miles seems very long but running 2 – 5 milers plus 1 - 3 miler is very doable!
Picture yourself finishing your race and how happy you will be. Visualize finishing strong and feeling good (this is different than fast). Picture your friends and family cheering for you and replay this movie in your head with as many details as you can add. Dedicate a mile to a loved one and think about that loved one cheering for you that mile. Think about hitting those tough patches yet working on getting through them and acknowledging them and moving past the discomfort.
Find a Mantra
This is something that you’ll tell yourself when it’s getting tough. It’s a cue for you that it’s ok and you’ll still continue. It can be a word or a phrase. Some of our favorites:
Don’t think, just run.
Relax (you paid for this)
I am won with the force, the force is with me
The more I run the sooner I am done
Stay present/ Monitor Form
Are you moving your arms? Keep your gaze up. Relax your shoulders. Smile! It’s hard to grumble to yourself if you are smiling and some of the world's best runners say they smile to make it hurt less. Try mixing up your form a little bit by taking slightly quicker steps, bring your knees up a bit more, or straighten one arm and then the other. Small little changes can help.
Keep your brain busy
Count. That’s right count your steps. Count to 50 and back down or whatever pattern you want, the point is to count. Your brain likes to stay busy and this gives it something to do.
This is also where music or other distraction (podcasts or audio books) can help. Sometimes saving this sort of distraction until towards the end can motivate you as something to look forward to when it gets harder.
Use other runners around you
Pretend they are pulling you along like a tow rope up a ski slope. Or pick someone in front of you and “go fishing." Cast your line and use them to reel you closer and closer until you can pass them.
Manage your emotions
Often during an event, especially as distance or time increases you will notice you will go through waves of emotions. At different times you will feel good, happy, sad, angry, tired, etc. When that emotion is a negative, remind yourself to wait just a moment as it will change and most likely be a positive.
Keep moving forward
Even if you have to walk when you had not planned to or have to run slower than you wanted to, keep moving forward. You will always be getting closer to your goal.
Remember you can only control two things you brain and your body. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control and instead focus on training your body and mind to make you the best you can be!