Nearly every runner faces that critical moment in a race when the finish line seems too far away. Your legs are begging for a break or your lungs are on fire and the mind starts to make deals with the body. Quitting suddenly enters into the lexicon. At this critical juncture, a runner can either press on or pull off to the side of the course and settle with that dreaded DNF [Did Not Finish] next to their name. Admittedly, there are times when quitting can be the right answer, such as instances of major injury or illness. But let’s face it, there are also many times when there’s no good reason to bail in the middle of a race, even if the thought of stopping sounds appealing.
Use these three tips next time things aren’t going well and you’re tempted to press the eject button:
1. Take a 30-second time out.
When we aren’t feeling well in a race, we tend to panic and usually start slowing down or walking while trying to find a good excuse to quit. Most runners face these demons at some point of their racing career. Next time you’re thinking of tearing off your bib, take 30 seconds to think about your race and remind yourself of a few things.
Tina Muir, a coach with Runners Connect, says to think about the struggle. “Races are meant to be tough, but the more struggles and moments of doubt we overcome during the race, the better we are going to feel as we cross the finish line,” she says. “If you had a bad race, and you struggled your way through, you are going to feel proud of yourself at the finish as you know you did not give in.” Ewen North, head coach at Revolution Running, suggests having a blunt conversation with yourself during this short time out. “Tell yourself, ‘This race will not beat me. I am tough and will finish,’” he says. If possible, take the 30-second break at an aid station where you can talk to someone and get encouragement. Also, take in some water or fuel. A few calories can make a huge difference in boosting your morale.
2. Break the distance to go into doable segments.
When you’re fatigued, it’s easier to break the race into smaller chunks rather than thinking about the entire distance. Tell yourself to take things one mile at time—or even one step at a time if the going has gotten really rough. North says it’s a good idea to adopt this approach from the start of the race. Each milestone you pass is a small “finish line” of sorts. Achieving a bunch of little victories can change your morale along the way.
3. Avoid developing bad habits.
If you drop out of a race just because things aren’t going well, there’s an increased likelihood that DNF’ing becomes your go-to strategy every time you run into a rough patch—and that’s not a good thing. Face your fears in these moments of doubt and keep moving forward even if you’re slowing down. “Those moments not only make you stronger, but they help you appreciate when things are going right in the next race,” says Muir. “Once you drop out once, it becomes easier to do it again. Just think of the finish line and how good it is going to feel when you know you beat that mental demon telling you to stop.” North encourages runners who are thinking about DNFing to use the negative moment for good. “Keep it in perspective,” he says. “There will be other races and chalk a bad run up to experience and learn from it.”
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