I know races and training have been going well for me lately, and no one is exempt from having a bad training run or a race. In fact, on of my worst runs ever was the Davis Moo-nlight half marathon last July, just a few months before I started blogging. That race was ROUGH — it was hot, the race was in the evening (I wasn’t used to doing long runs at 7pm), and I experienced the worst chafing of my life by mile 8 — yep, a recipe for disaster. That race, was hard for me to enjoy.
In general though, I would say I am a very happy runner (ok, I’m pretty happy most of the time — not just while running). I love getting out and pounding the pavement even when I know it is going to be a hard run. I always look forward to the feeling afterward. One thing that I think makes this easier / better is a positive attitude.
In the most recent Runner’s World magazine issue, there was a short article called Find Zen Through Running. This article really spoke to me because this is exactly how I feel about my running mental attitude and frame of mind. It mentions four points to keep your thoughts calm, which can in turn improve your running.
1) Tune In: Be aware of your body and how you are doing today. Notice how you feel, whether it is good or bad. Maybe your hamstrings or IT Band are tight from yesterday’s run or strength session, or maybe you feel great and relaxed today. While you are running think about staying relaxed — shoulders and hands should not be tense. This is also something I try to think about while cycling. If your body and mind are relaxed, running will be easier. You can also try focusing on your breath — now many steps each inhale and exhale takes — or the movement of your chest and abdomen as you breathe.
2) Think Happy: An optimistic outlook has been linked to increased athletic performance. We all know that the time spent out on the road for a long run can take the mind to a lot of different places. If negative self talk comes, try to just see the thoughts come and go rather than dwelling on them. When a run starts to get tough, I often tell myself that I look beautiful or I’m doing great rather than thinking about how hard it feels or about my muscles burning. As mentioned in the article “I can see the thoughts coming up while I run—I want to stop right now; I wish this was over—and I see them for what they are,” Davis says. “They are just thoughts; they don’t have to be my reality.”
3) Accept the Challenge: I think runners love a challenge. We enjoy pushing ourselves to new limits. When things don’t go as planned (like my hot weather, chafe inducing race last July) rather than spend our energy fretting about what it is going to be like, use a calm and positive mental state to relax and be in the moment. This saves energy to put into racing instead of fidgeting or tiring the mind. Focus on your breath and what is happening at this very moment — not what is happening 5 minutes from now, or what happened 5 minutes ago.
4) Love the Run: Value the runner you are today. Try not to be dissatisfied with your ability — maybe you think you should be able to run faster or farther or longer. But no matter where you want to be, this is where you are now.
I have learned a lot about this kind of meditative thought process through yoga. Practicing this method of focusing in yoga has also improved how I think during running or other workouts. Sometimes it takes me a mile or two at the beginning of my run to quiet my mind and feel more in the zone. Usually I don’t actually think about meditation, but more about relaxing, focusing, and being aware of my body. I truly believe we can go further and be so much stronger with a positive mindset.
Sure, bad and upsetting things happen, and its okay (actually good!) to talk about them. I’m sure I will tell you all about it when my next terrible race or run comes up. But right now I’m focusing on keeping my mind zen, and I think it is bringing my running to the next level.
So today, don’t be afraid to be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished. Try not to dwell on the days that don’t work out as you planned whether on a run or in life.
Be present. Breathe. Enjoy the run.