Running is hard. Whether you are just starting out and struggle to find motivation to get out the door or you are a seasoned runner who is on the cusp of pushing through workouts that hurt, and paces that are a stretch, there is always a hard part to the sport.
But there is a fine line to walk between making your running too hard, not hard enough and setting yourself up for failure altogether. And perhaps even more difficult than toeing the line is knowing how to navigate it and how to come out on the other side, successfully reaching your goal.
Here’s how to tackle some hurdles commonly faced by high performing runners that get in the way of victory. Use these guidelines to help facilitate a path to success in your running aspirations, instead of letting something pull you off track.
Finding (And Using) Your Why
The advice on the need to figure out “what’s your why,” is perhaps cliché and overstated, but not without merit. Having a clear underlying reason about why you are running and pushing to achieve more, gives you something at the foundation to remind yourself of when you hit a hurdle or your running gets hard. By now, most of us know what our why is, but the important, and often overlooked, step, is the need to access and use your why during your training.
- Have a mantra or quote that you can repeat to yourself that reminds you of your why and brings it to the forefront of your mind.
- If your why is a particular person, like a loved one you lost or a family member, wear a necklace or piece of jewelry that reminds you of them so that you can touch or hold it when things get tough.
- Dedicate your time or miles by making a certain amount of time or distance being in honor of aspects of your why. For example, if your why is to improve your mental health and wellbeing, dedicate one mile to the people who have helped you do so, the next to yourself for sticking it out, another to the progress you have made so far, etc. Thinking about specific things in each mile will focus your mind and make the time pass more quickly.
Getting On The Pain Train
You’ve probably heard more than once that when it comes to running hard, hitting paces and achieving goals, it’s going to hurt. The pain is short-lived, and will be over soon enough, but that doesn’t make it any easier in the moment. And especially when your body is working against you and telling you to stop because it hurts.
The human body does not like pain. Pain indicates something is wrong, and it is instinctive for the body to try to protect us and guide us out of situations that lead to pain and something being wrong. That means, when you are running and it hurts, your body doesn’t like it – and tells you to stop.
In order to keep going despite this, you have to work on a few things:
- Learn how to embrace the pain. Treat it more as a good thing, as it indicates you are working hard and en route to achieving big things. Welcome it like an old friend.
- Understand how your body responds to pain and what the cues are that it gives to tell you that it is time to stop or that the pain is too much.
- Practice running in pain. Just like your running improves the more you run, so too does your ability to embrace pain. Even more than that, however, you learn what it feels like to be in pain, the pain threshold you can sustain, and what it feels like to push through and come out on the other side.
- Have a “pain is here” plan of attack: smile through it; have a mantra, or just commit to making it through and doing what it takes, reminding yourself that soon it will be over.
Pushing (Just) Far Enough
Perhaps one of the more challenging aspects of pushing to new limits is just that: pushing yourself and knowing when it’s far enough—but not too far. In most cases, this comes with time, experience, practice and getting it wrong a few times before you get it right. It comes from running a race and bonking way too early, struggling to finish and then also, running a race and feeling at the end like you have way more left in the tank. Consider these tips to help you find your perfect place.
- Hire a coach: If you are new to running, have some big goals or just aren’t seeing the results you want, a coach can help you get on track and reach your potential.
- Run by feel: Practice in your training what it feels like in your body to run hard and run easy and use that to know how much you can push in your race.
- Use the treadmill: Because it can lock you into a steady pace, you can use the treadmill for progression runs, gradually increasing the speed of the treadmill and running at increasing paces as a result. Doing this will help you learn what you are capable of and how it feels to get there.
- Monitor your effort based on your pace or heartrate, and know what pace is indicative of easy, hard and marathon efforts.
To Stop Or Not To Stop?
Finally, it’s important to address that roadblock so many of us have hit where we are struggling in a workout, having an off day or feeling really fatigued, and just don’t know whether to keep pushing through. It plays out in your head, “Should I quit, and rest up so I can be back on track for tomorrow?” “I know I need to practice running on tired legs.” While it is different for everyone and dependent on one’s situation and training, here are a few things to guide you in making your choice as to whether you should call off a workout, push through, or at the very least understand why you may feel the way you do:
- Call off the workout if you have persistently elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pain or other pains that aren’t typical for you.
- Consider other events or things going on in your life, such as family, work, or lack of sleep. These other factors can contribute to your running performance and if they are off, your workout may be as well.
- Check your mind and attitude. Commit to leaving negative thoughts or destructive self-talk at the start of your route. Once you are running free from this, see if your run suddenly becomes easier.
- Commit to a portion of it and see how you feel afterwards. If you are planning to do a 10K tempo and things aren’t going well, commit to maintaining pace for 5K to start. Once you do so, re-evaluate: if you’re still struggling, it may be a good day to call it a day.
Every day will be different, every run will be unique, and tomorrow is a new day to go run again. Listen to your body: giving yourself a little extra rest on a day is better than pushing through too hard and ending up injured. If nothing else, overcoming hurdles and pushing through teaches you grit and resilience. Keep practicing, keep persevering, because in many cases, that continued pursuit of showing up is what will get you to the end.