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Three Ways to Mentally Push Through Your Training Runs

This is a guest post by Abby Keenan, MS, CC-AASP

Picture this – I’m smack in the middle of a training run at Mason Mill Park on a hot summer day. We’re talking 90+ degree weather with humidity through the roof (welcome to Atlanta), with me drenched in sweat, momentarily enjoying the shade as I listen to my shoes hit the wood of the boardwalk. Then I reach the pavement – and it’s an uphill battle, literally. I make it through the next two hills with intentional effort and some serious arm pumping. It certainly doesn’t hurt that plenty of other people are around and I want to make a good impression, even at a glance (you know you’ve been there!).

The hill transitioning from the cement path back into the park is always a doozy for me. You know that hill – the one that you dread when you decide to run that particular route, the one that dictates how you feel about your training that day, the one that truly shows you what you’re made of in the moment.

What’s holding youback in your training? Whether it’s hills, a tough route, the weather, tackling a new distance or being tired or sore (you name it!), it’s time to stand up to yourself. Often, runners try to tackle these barriers physically and disregard the importance of mental tools they can use to really make a difference.

When I ask groups I’m training, the vast majority of athletes say that at minimum, their sport is 50% mental (often, I get 75%+). If you agree, then the question becomes: What percentage of training time do you spend working on the mental side of running?

You have so much power between your ears just waiting to be leveraged by putting the right skills and strategies into place! If you’re healthy and have the physical ability to run but you’re not performing at your best in training, here are a few mental skills you can implement to push through those tough moments and train harder.

  • Revamp your self-talk: What you say to yourself matters – whether it’s inside your mind or out loud. We often allow our thoughts to be reactive to the current situation, which leaves our thoughts up to chance. If you’re having a great run, your thoughts are likely feeding off of that runner’s high, and they’re working for you – awesome! However, if you’re facing whatever holds you back in your training, there’s a good chance your thoughts are working against you – telling you to stop, that you can’t do it, it’s too hot/cold, your legs aren’t going to carry you – the list goes on and on. I don’t know about you, but in those tough moments I want my thoughts aligned with my goals and helping me to conquer my run. While you’re out logging miles, be intentional about saying key words or short phrases to motivate yourself, give yourself an instruction or be objective in the moment. For example, you could say, “you got this,” “pace and posture,” or “half way through.”

  • Remember your “why”:Everyone has a reason that he or she started running or started going after a current goal in the first place. What’s yours? Ideally you run and you’re training because you want to, it’s something that you enjoy and you crave the challenge. If that’s you, congratulations! (Some of your eyebrows just leaped to the top of your forehead… keep reading.) While it’s much easier to stay motivated if you enjoy training, not everyone is in that boat. If you run for the bling, to lose weight, for the social fulfillment or another reason, embrace it. This is your purpose, or your “why,” for doing what you’re doing. In those tough moments, remind yourself of this reason, repeat it in your mind and immerse yourself in the meaning of it.

  • Reflect on your experiences:My clients probably get tired of hearing me talk about reflection, but seriously – this is one of the most valuable mental tools you have. After each training session, spend a few minutes alone thinking about what just happened and what you can learn from that experience. For example, you may reflect on questions such as “What did I do well? When did I push through and how? When did I get in my own way? Where can I continue to improve? What’s my plan for next time?” At the bare minimum, think about these or similar questions while the experience is still fresh, but it’s even better if you write. it. down. I highly recommend grabbing a journal and putting pen to paper (if you’re not already) to track your progress over time and stay motivated.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve your performance by incorporating strategic mental training into your running (or another sport!), reach out to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Email Abby at for more information.


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