Overcoming Mental Barriers to Your Running Success

By Pam Landry |

Overcoming Mental Barriers to Your Running Success

As runners, we often face disappointments and mental stresses that not only affect performance, but can also dampen running enjoyment. Some workouts may present more of a mental challenge than a physical one at any point in your training. If this is the case, here are some strategies to put in place ahead of time so that you can meet each potential mental barrier head-on.

  1. Fear of Failure: Fear can drive you to a great performance, but it can also be overwhelming. Many of us run harder when we are nervous, whether fearful of not reaching our goal time, or by being passed by a competitor or teammate. The cost for giving into fear, however, is often anxiety, confidence loss, and a less-than-ideal running experience.With any given workout there may be some fear of not meeting expectations. What to do?  Instead of resisting fear, face it on head-on. Decrease your own resistance to it so you can control it, instead of it controlling you. Acknowledge the fear and then take positive actions to begin to think differently. The combination of setting realistic, short-term goals, developing positive affirmations for yourself, and practicing relaxation techniques can be helpful here, along with the reminder that if you aren’t willing to risk failure, you’ll never fully succeed. When you make a commitment to be the best you can be, while keeping your expectations in balance, you can celebrate what you achieve rather than reinforcing what you have yet to accomplish.
  1. The Comparison Trap: It is easy to compare yourself to faster runners and to assume that faster times will make you happier. While comparing yourself to other runners and setting realistic goals can help to motivate you, someone else is always faster, so this comparative dance can be futile when taken too far. The stark reality is that all runners are not created equally. We don’t all start off with the same genes or have the same time and resources for training throughout our lives.Completing challenging workouts then, is commendable for everyone who commits to this effort, regardless of relative pace. So if you routinely make self-defeating comparisons between your pace ranges and those of much faster runners. Stop yourself immediately, put your effort level into perspective, and enjoy using that very valuable self-comparison to your earlier season pace and effort levels to motivate yourself.
  1. The Perfection Myth: We can all get caught up in believing that we will someday run the perfect race or workout on the perfect course on the perfect day, and then we’ll run the way we’ve always known we could. It is far better to strive for excellence, not perfection, and to accept imperfect success.With some designated pace workouts for example, the goal is to get as close as possible to nailing a specific pace. If this doesn’t happen for any number of reasons, you’ll still walk away with a productive and successful workout if you’re brave enough to evaluate your workout and to assess what you learned from it for the next time around.
  1. Fast Time Syndrome: For some, one of the great delights in our sport is running fast and setting personal records, but you can’t run a PR every time. I encourage you to enjoy your workouts and races even if the result isn’t a time you are proudest of. Look for rewards other than the fast time: gaining strength and fitness for upcoming key races, having fun taking part in your sport with others. Define success with a broad brush while you put your best self on the line.

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