Positive Running : Finding the balance between your physical and mental strength
I recently read a really good post by Running Rachel about her foray into Crossfit, within which Rachel discussed some of the issues that come with trying something new and going out of her comfort zone. In her article Rachel refers to her “love/hate relationship” with Crossfit and how even though she loves the challenge, she hates how Crossfit causes her to have feelings of being “weak, inexperienced and often inferior”. However, don’t think this was an article filled with negativity about her performance. On the contrary, Rachel knows these are ‘novice thoughts’ brought about by her lack of experience and being out of her comfort zone.
This got me thinking about running and how beginners often struggle to enjoy running. Being a beginner runner can often leave you suffering both physical pain and willpower sapping negative thoughts. So how do so many people overcome these issues and learn to love running?
Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I believe one of the key things that a lot of beginner runners struggle with is achieving a good balance between their physical ability and their mental attitude. Beginner runners often struggle to achieve this balance because taking up running pushes you outside your comfort zone, both physically and mentally, usually in ways people haven’t experienced before.
Before we move on – going beyond your comfort zone is a good thing! Pushing yourself like this exposes you to new challenges and new achievements.
However, if you push too far you run the risk of falling short of your expectations and engendering negative thoughts about your running. Like most things in life, the key is finding and maintaining a balance, in this case between your mental and physical strength. By being able to find a balance between your physical ability and your mental attitude, you begin to be able to ‘critique’ your performance, instead of being ‘critical’. A critique of your performance is objective and allows you locate areas where you can improve, and areas where you are already strong. Being critical involves ‘subjective’ criticism of where you weren’t ‘good enough’ or ‘tough enough’. These negative thoughts eat at your confidence and your willpower and cause anxiety about your running. It is these sorts of thoughts that can prevent people from developing a positive relationship with their running. Why would you keep going or keep trying to improve if you are always met with self-criticism and anxiety?
So, how can you try and achieve a balance between your physical and mental strength?
Well, most of the time these imbalances are brought about not knowing what you can achieve (Physical strength) versus what you want to achieve (Mental strength) which can lead to ‘perceived’ failures and consequent negative thoughts. I have set out below some tips I have learnt and used over the last few years that I hope can help you with balancing your physical strength and your mental strength:
- Don’t be too tough on yourself. Realise when your mental strength is overpowering your physical strength!
- Listen to your body. If you feel you could have worked harder, figure out why. Were you stronger physically than you were mentally, or maybe your goal for that workout was lower than it could have been. Don’t beat yourself up about it, take it as a sign that you are stronger than you thought you were!
- Set realistic goals. Sure, challenge yourself, but in a way which is achievable. You will get better at this as you get more experience.
- Define your goals. Use goals which can be defined, like distance or time, not nebulous ideas like ‘be a better runner’. If you can’t define your goal how can you tell when you have reached it?
- Goals are flexible! Goals can change whenever you need them to, based on your progress, injuries, sickness, whatever. Chasing an increasingly unachievable goal is not going to keep you positive about your running!
- Assess your failures, but don’t dwell on them. Failure is common for people who are operating outside their comfort zone! Assess why you failed so you can change the next attempt into success. But don’t dwell on it. Dwelling on your failure won’t turn it into success, but it will hamper you from achieving success next time around.
- Beware the negative prophecy. Thinking you are a bad runner will make you a bad runner. Make sure to recognise negative thoughts emerging, and re-frame them to be positive by thinking about what you did achieve, not about what you couldn’t.
- Find your strengths. Everyone, even a beginner, has things they are good at. Find them and celebrate them!
I hope these tips can help you find a balance and achieve a positive relationship with your running. Maybe they will be a help for you experienced runners out there as well! I know I have had to rely on these tips during my recovery from plantar fasciitis in order to keep a balance between my physical and mental strength and maintain my positive frame of mind! I hope you too can learn to recognise when you are having ‘novice thoughts’ and use the tips above to kick those negative thoughts to the kerb. Here’s to ‘Positive running’ everyone!
Get Going – Get Running!