Running goals take a huge investment of time and energy. Because of this every athlete has the desire to throw in the towel in the middle of the training season or during a tough race. How do we move through these valleys?
The Big Question
The biggest contributor to pushing through those tough periods is understanding the “why” behind setting a goal from the beginning. What was your reason? Health and fitness, spiritual, to make new friends, or to test your limits? Maybe to travel to another part of the world? For me, ultra running provides all of these but ultimately it reveals me to myself in a honest and real way that I don’t always get in my day to day. When thoughts of quitting lurk in the shadows I remind myself of this and it offers a fresh perspective and a boost to keep moving forward.
Your training will not go perfectly. Life does not go along perfectly. Expect set backs then adapt when they arise. These “opportunities for growth” can provide the biggest gains if you allow them to. I know that sounds particularly rosy but consider this: Penicillin, the Pacemaker and even the Slinky were all discovered accidentally. Running is a highly mental sport and your ability to adapt to injury or life happenings positively transfers to your running.
Find your Tribe
The solitude of running attracts many people to the sport while others enjoy the social aspect of group runs. When training for a challenging goal it’s helpful to incorporate both miles alone and shared miles with friends. The moments of solitude teach you to tap into your own strength and grit. Social running reminds you that striving for a challenging goal is difficult for everyone, can offer distractions from your temporary suffering and can even push you to run stronger than you previously thought possible. The other huge benefit of running with friends is they help hold you accountable. When you alarm goes off at 4 a.m. it’s easier to slip out of a warm bed if you know people are counting on you to show up. Ultimately, the longer the race distance the more comfortable you’ll need to be running alone. Keep that in mind when setting your goal!
Do you ever find that when a negative thought shows up it seems impossible to NOT focus on it? Mantras, which are a statement or slogan repeated frequently, are a great way to shift your focus when those pestering pleas to quit pop up. Here are a few that work well for me: “I GET to do this.” “One step at a time.” “This is temporary.” “This isn’t hard; this just is.” “I don’t get tired.” This last one is more of a joke and makes me laugh during a hard run. I’m the grandma in my running tribe because I regularly go to bed early and this mantra reminds me to not take running so seriously.
Reduce Decision- Making
It’s well documented that our decision making skills start to dwindle as we tire, which, in this case, can mean quitting a race or cutting a training run short simply because you are tired. The less decisions you have to make the fewer opportunities for you to self sabotage your finish or training. A run/ walk routine can help keep you moving forward when you otherwise may wallow. This is particularly useful at the ultra distances since walking at different parts of your goal race is likely. For my 100- mile race in December I plan to utilize a 20- minute run, 5- minute walk strategy. When practicing this during training runs I find I don’t analyze the suffering going on as closely. I have a plan that I just have to stick with which allows me to let go of constantly wondering if I should walk or stop all together.
Additionally, when you have a solid training plan laid out the question shifts from, “Will I run today?” to “What am I running today?” That shift reduces the likelihood of emotional decision- making based on a tough day at the office or other life stressors.
If training is consistently miserable and you aren’t enjoying a moment of it take a step back and assess. Miles, speed work, early mornings, missed events, shortened social hours and time away from your family are trying but you should feel like it’s worth it at some point. Are you exhibiting symptoms of overtraining? Is this the right time to train for your goal? At the end of the day you should gain something from the struggle; it shouldn’t be a beat down for a whole training season.