How To Jog Beyond Negative Thoughts About Running
Growing up, I was the kiddo struggling to finish the mile run, huffing and puffing my way around the track, and walking the last lap or two.
Growing up, I was the kiddo struggling to finish the mile run, huffing and puffing my way around the track, and walking the last lap or two. My mind fed me some of these thoughts: “Running is too hard. You’re not a runner. You can’t even go a mile. You’re not fit enough. You’re not lean enough.”
Fast forward twenty years later, to when I began running more regularly, and arrived at my first couple of start lines at local 5ks. The same thoughts from twenty years earlier came right up for me. Standing at the start, I’d look around and think all of those negative thoughts, with the common thread of: “I don’t belong here.”
During college, medical school, and residency, I started and stopped and started again with running. In the beginning, I was getting out there purely to practice what I was preaching to my patients. But each time I would take a long break from running and then get back to it, the same negative self-talk would creep in: “I’ve never been able to stick with this before, so why would I be able to this time around?”
There are many negative thoughts that come up for individuals when it comes to getting started with running, but they can all be overcome!
*It’s too hard. When I started running, I thought I had to try to go out as fast and as long as possible to get a decent workout accomplished. This resulted in feelings of disappointment when I would get tired and out of breath quickly. And honestly, when I was huffing and puffing my way home with aching legs, running wasn’t much fun at all.
The game changer for me was learning how to run slowly. I found that I could run for longer and with much less fatigue. Instead of trying to run at the pace we ran for the elementary school 100 meter dash all those years ago, I would encourage myself to find a pace that I can comfortably sustain. By going more slowly, we find a pace at which we could have a conversation. Alternatively, finding a pace at which one could belt out Springsteen’s, “Born To Run,” without becoming short of breath, is also very much encouraged.
What if we embraced our current fitness, wherever that happens to be, and simply ran with it, however slowly?
“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” ~Bart Yasso
*I don’t belong. We see runners in our neighborhood, and maybe we don’t think we belong right there with them for whatever reason. Or, maybe we’ve been at that start line before, looking around and thinking, “I don’t look like them. I’m not as fast as them. I didn’t train for this like they did.” The ideas that we have to be a certain size, shape, height, build; that we have to be fast; that we can’t walk; that we have to run a certain distance before we are considered “a runner,” are really just thoughts that our minds have created for a variety of reasons.
If we are running recreationally, for the purposes of exercise, fitness, and wellness, it is quite unlikely that other recreational runners are worrying about what we look like and how fast we are going. Most runners are concerned with their individual results and personal improvement. Just ask any marathoner what their best time is! Most of us have that PR (personal record) ready on the tip of our tongues! We can be competitive, but let’s be competitive with ourselves.
If we are out there running, we are runners. And we belong there. What if we allowed ourselves to remove the comparison factor with regard to other runners?
“Don’t compare yourself to other runners; focus on your own fitness and performance.” ~Jack Daniels, PhD
*It’s too late. Many beginners say, “But it’s too late. I’m too old for this.” My mom has been a brisk walker for many years now, but she took to the challenge of increasing her distance and completed her first half marathon in her late 60s! There are plenty more inspiring stories just like this one.
The brain loves to offer thoughts about our age, size, current fitness level, and on again/off again history with running or exercise. And maybe because of these thoughts, doubt bubbles up to the surface, causing us to quit before we even get started.
What if it was never too late to get started on our fitness journey, or to RESTART it?
*I quit so many times before, so why try again? We look to our past experiences with a running or exercise plan, and think, I’ve never been able to stick with it, so why would I be able to this time? Or, maybe we start running a few days a week for several weeks in a row. But then one day, we miss a run. And then one missed run becomes a week of missed runs. And before we know it, our brains say, “You’ve missed a few already, so why bother getting out there tomorrow?”
This is a common thought distortion called “all or none thinking,” where anything short of perfect leads to a feeling of failure. It shows up often for me and for my athletes, but recognizing it is key. In recognizing all or none thinking, we can then take a step back, and look for some balance and flexibility in our training. Does anyone really stick 100% to an exercise plan? We are human. Life happens. We aren’t professional runners. We are working, doctoring, and parenting.
Insead of beating ourselves up about missing a training run or exercise that we had planned on our schedule, what if we agreed to cut ourselves some slack but to not make this a habit? What if we allowed a deep breath, and simply started again tomorrow?
The beauty of this sport is that all of us have to start somewhere, and that somewhere may be at mile 0 and time 0.
It is easy to look at a marathoner and think, “There is no way I could get there,” but the truth is, there is nothing wrong with starting from wherever we are and taking that first step. If we think of the journey as a marathon and not as a sprint, we change our focus to the long game and allow patience with ourselves.
The only way we assure we don’t get there, is if we never take the first step at all. I would encourage us to lace up our sneakers and to try an easy jog for a few minutes this week. See how it feels. One foot in front of the other, consistently, will get us toward our goals. Let’s surprise ourselves by taking that first step.
The information provided here is for general information and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional/medical advice. Before taking actions based upon such information, please consult the appropriate professionals. Consult your primary care physician before undertaking any fitness or exercise regimen.
Michelle Quirk is a board certified pediatrician, certified run coach with the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), marathoner, and triathlete. She developed Mindful Marathon to help others discover how they can embrace running and prioritize their well-being. She develops customized training plans for every type of runner—new, old, somewhere in between—and helps to fit those training plans into busy lives. With her help, Michelle’s athletes find their edge and achieve their goals. You can find out more about Michelle, coaching with her, and her course for beginner runners at mindful-marathon.com