Friday, April 25, 2014

Five Strategies for Getting Through a Mentally Hard Run

I'm currently a part of #500in2014, a challenge to run or walk 500 miles by the end of the year. It started on Twitter among educators, and it's been a lot of fun to share the experience with friends across the country. (Thank you @Principal_EL, @MathMinds, @GoldenEagleEye, and @BUCSlead for the daily inspiration!)

Today at school, I knew that I would be going for a run tonight, and I planned on 4-5 miles. When I got home from work, I had a pre-run snack, checked out Twitter, and then hit the trail. All was good... so I thought!

As usual, the start was the hardest. Soon into my run, my head was trying to talk me out of it. I thought things like, "Just walk. You walked 5 miles yesterday... go ahead and take your time." I also thought, "Maybe you should just go out a mile then back for a total of two miles." Believe me when I say, it was like a pinball machine in my head. The thoughts kept coming and banging around in there!

By the end of the run, I completed 5 miles, and I did it in my fastest time yet (which is not really all that fast, but fast for me!) So how did I turn it around? I used some strategies during the run that helped me get through it, and I realized that there are some great analogies to be had for running through life. 

Here are my five strategies for getting through a mentally hard run:

1. Set yourself up for success. I have found that I enjoy running in the morning more than running in the evening. I think it's because I drink a cup of coffee before my Saturday morning runs with my friend, Karen. So today, I had a cup of coffee when I got home from school give me an extra boost for the run. I charged my phone so that I could use my Nike+ running app to track my miles, and most importantly, to play my favorite songs on my playlist.

2. Set small goals along the way. When I started the run and I had thoughts of walking. I said to myself, "Just run to the 2-mile mark, then you can walk back." Then, as I got close to the 2-mile mark, I told myself I would run to the 2.5-mile mark then walk back (for a total of 5 miles.) When I hit the 2.5-mile mark, I said to myself, "Well, you've run 2.5 now, go ahead and run to the 3-mile mark and you can walk for the last 2 miles." Now you can guess what happened when I got to the 3 mile mark.... :-)

3. Turn your focus outward. I was tempted to think about myself, the doubt, the walking, the wanting to give up... but I turned my focus outward. I started looking at the runners and walkers I was passing, and I thought about them.  I thought about their own challenges that they may be having themselves. I raised my hand in a greeting, made eye contact, and smiled.

4. Visualize. Create a mental model. As I ran, I pictured myself at the finish line. Over and over as I ran. I saw myself running fast and strong as I got to the end of my run. Intentionally, I called up that image as I ran. Also, I had seen a certain runner on the trail during the week who made me want to "look like him." He ran fast and with ease. He became my mental model.

5. Remember your supporters. The #500in2014 community is extremely encouraging and uplifting. I thought about them as I ran, and I thought of their encouraging words. When I was having trouble doing it alone, knowing that they were "on my team" lifted me when I couldn't lift myself.

As I reflected on my run, I realized that the strategies used to get through the mentally hard run are strategies that apply to other situations, including ones at work, with family and friends, when working on a project, etc. 

What do you think? Have you ever had to get through a hard run? What strategies would you add?

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