Mental Roadblocks Runners
Face and How to Overcome Them by Katrin McDonald
Runner's World Online
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Runners perform best when their whole
body--head to toe--is working in sync. Here's how to get over the four most
common mental roadblocks runners face.
Hurdle: You start off your training program with boundless energy, but
within a few weeks just lacing up your shoes feels like a chore.
Clear It: Throwing all your energy into the beginning of a training
plan is like starting a race at a full sprint. You're not going to have enough
juice to finish strong--or finish at all. "Initial excitement is good," says
New York sports psychologist and runner Robert Udewitz, Ph.D., "but you need to
harness those feelings and divide them up throughout your training." If you're
on a 16-week marathon plan, for instance, four months is a long time to wait
for a finish-line reward. Schedule a half-marathon midway through your training
to help you stay focused and motivated. Also, there's no shame in self-bribery.
Promise yourself a massage after your long run. Download new songs into your
iPod to help you through a track workout.
Mental Hurdle: You
get so stressed out with performance anxiety that you aren't able to relax and
enjoy the race experience.
Clear It: "Runners who feel this way
are usually caught up in time goals," says Kate Hays, Ph.D., a sports
psychologist who leads the "Psyching Team" at the Toronto Marathon. "Don't lose
sight of all the other reasons you run--health, sense of accomplishment,
connection to others." To ease race-day pressure, Hays recommends setting three
levels of goals: your ideal scenario, results that would make you happy, and an
outcome that you could live with. And keep your ideal to yourself, so you don't
face additional pressure from well-meaning family and friends.
Hurdle: You struggle to balance running, work, and family.
Clear It: You might have been able to devote 15 hours a week to
running--when you didn't have three kids and a senior management position.
Setting goals that don't reflect your current lifestyle, says Hays, sets you up
for disappointment. There's no need to give up running. But switching to a
three-day-a-week marathon-training plan, or temporarily focusing on shorter
distance races, could make you feel more successful in all areas of your life.
Also consider ways in which running can bring you closer to your family. "Some
runners isolate themselves and push away others when they are training," says
Udewitz. "Make your training more of a team effort by getting your family
involved." For instance, ask your spouse to bike alongside you during a long
run, or your kids to make you signs for race day, and then treat them to dinner
at their favorite restaurant or a movie of their choice. And make sure you're
their top cheerleader at their next event.
You're locked into a training plan, no matter what.
Runners are notoriously inflexible--and not just in their hamstrings. "Part of
the appeal of running is that it's an element of our lives we can control,"
says Hays. "If other areas of our lives are chaotic, a regimented routine can
be comforting." This is fine, but many runners obey their plans over their own
bodies, putting them at risk of injury. To loosen this mindset, Hays recommends
visualizing a more flexible schedule. Imagine what it would be like skipping a
run to rest an achy muscle. Then picture yourself running stronger the next day
because you took time off. Or create an internal self-coach. Runners tend to be
harder on themselves than a coach would be. A coach doesn't push you when your
body needs a break or recommend completely unrealistic goals. "Ask yourself if
a coach would approve of what you're doing," says Udewitz. "Or if you were
coaching another runner, what would you advise him in this situation?"