Truth be told, running is as much about your mental capacity as it is your physical capabilities. Your psychological state before, during, and after your runs play a major role in how you view running overall—whether you enjoy it or not, whether you can push yourself, whether you go on a run in the first place, etc. Oftentimes, your mind operates independently from your body, and the key to developing a consistent running routine is to get your mind and body in alignment.
Now, this is easier said than done. I’ve been a runner for years and I still fall into the psychological traps that my mind creates. There are times when the little voice in my head tries to talk me out of running, and sometimes it feels like I can’t turn it off. These mental hurdles can be tough to get over, but I find that most of the time, all it takes is a little pep talk and logical thinking—which I’ll give you some examples of below.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Day, here’s how to break through common mental roadblocks you may face as a runner.
Example 1: People will see me
When we aren’t feeling or looking our best (or more likely, feeling like we don’t look our best), a common knee-jerk reaction is to self-isolate. We get into a headspace where we don’t want anyone to see us. This could be for a number of reasons, but usually, it’s because we fear embarrassment or judgment from others. And unfortunately, if that fear is strong enough, it can cause us to forgo our run altogether. The irony is that in the same way that we are so focused on ourselves and how we look and feel, everyone else is also focused on themselves. So, my advice for tackling this mental roadblock is two-fold.
First, you have to project confidence. It doesn’t matter if you actually feel confident when you head out for your run—you just have to act as if you do. Hone in on your posture, put on upbeat music, and get into it. Giving off insecure energy (slouching your shoulders, looking around at others, wearing a face that says “I’m not confident”), will only draw attention to yourself, aka the opposite of what you want. So, act confident and no one will question you.
Second, reserve your own judgments. I’m a firm believer in the idea that judgment breeds judgment—if you judge other people, they will judge you. When we feel insecure, we tend to rush to judgment because we think the people around us are judging us. But like I said before, people are far more concerned with themselves than they are with you and what you’re doing. If judgmental thoughts pop into your head during a run, let them float on by and recenter your mind on positive thoughts like “I’ve got this” or “I’m slaying this run right now.”
Example 2: I’m not good enough
Ah, imposter syndrome. How I wish you didn’t exist. As runners, it’s SO easy to get caught up in the numbers–our pace, our mileage, our number of races completed, etc. This paired with the fact that running is a competitive sport–you can see why people start to think they aren’t good enough.
The next time this thought comes up, I encourage you to challenge your mind with a few questions. Why aren’t you good enough? Good enough compared to who? What core beliefs do you have about yourself that make you feel like you aren’t good enough to go for a run? Comparing yourself to other runners is a) detrimental to your mental health and b) useless, because we are who we are. It’s normal to have goals and want to improve your performance, but the only person you can work on is yourself. So, when you catch yourself saying that you aren’t good enough, try to get to the bottom of why—and when you realize that your reasoning is paper-thin (or you realize there is no real reason), lace up your shoes and get out there before your brain has another chance to stop you.
Example 3: I’m not fast enough
Another roadblock that many runners encounter is the thought that they aren’t fast enough. Again, I urge you to question that. Fast enough compared to who? Usain Bolt? Your best friend? Your past self? Who are you trying to be fast for? Give yourself a reality check. Speed is something you gradually build on—it comes with practice and consistency, and it takes time. Professional runners who run for a living have to put in hours and hours of work to increase their speed. If you’re not running for performance, then give yourself a break! At this exact moment, you are fast enough for you. And if you are a competitive runner, then set a realistic goal and give yourself adequate time to work towards it.
Example 4: I’m not a real runner
Finally, my own personal roadblock: Telling myself I’m not “really” a runner. The best response I’ve come up with is to ask myself “what does that even mean?” Then I start thinking about what it means to be a runner, and how I define the term. This has made me realize that, to me, a runner is someone who runs. Not someone who runs “well,” whatever that means. If you are out there pounding the pavement, putting one foot in front of the other, you are a runner. You don’t need to run races, have medals, be super fast, or run all that often. Running can be as much a part of your identity as you want it to be. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.
It bears repeating that overcoming mental roadblocks isn’t an easy feat, but with the right strategies, enough practice, and a little self-belief, there’s no doubt in my mind that you can conquer them.
Please note: This blog is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.