How to keep running when you want to stop

How to keep running when you want to stop

We’ve all been there, deep in the hurt locker during a hard run set desperate to relieve ourselves of the self-inflicted pain. Knowing how to keep running when you want to stop is key to breaking barriers in endurance performance

Harnessing your thoughts when the going gets tough is key to improving run performance. Stepping out of your comfort zone is necessary to developing as an athlete – whether you’re a beginner or elite – but there will always be that voice in your head you need to quieten.

So, how do you keep running when you want to stop?

1. Don’t be afraid to change the session

I spent years believing that if I didn’t hit my session exactly as prescribed, I’d failed.

Oftentimes, this meant I’d quit halfway through, perhaps for totally justified reasons: maybe I hadn’t fuelled properly or not slept well the previous night. Regardless, my closed mindset would see only failure and instead of tweaking the session to make it achievable, I’d stop.

The negative feelings that ensured were always grim.

A growth mindset recognises that we’re not robots. Training needs to consider a range of ‘life’ stressors – work, family, social - so the next time you’re finding a run harder than normal, give yourself a break.

Slow down, aim to hit a different zone or simply switch to an easy run and focus on cadence and technique. You’ll live to fight another day and making the best of what you can give on that day will still see you progress.

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Relax, keep perspective and congratulate yourself for being out there at all.

2. Break it down

Don’t focus on the next 10 miles. Break the time and distance down and focus on short-term goals.

I’ll just run to that next bridge, then I can take a walk break

100 more steps and I can take my foot off the gas

Long runs in particular are likened to eating an elephant. All you can do is take one bite at a time. Focus on the immediacy, keep present and just concentrate on the next step.

3. Imagine a running hero

I’m not talking about Superman or Batman here - though if picturing yourself running around in a cape with your pants outside some leggings does it for you, then go for it.

Instead, picture your running hero.

Maybe it’s Eliud Kipchoge on the final few miles of Nike’s Breaking-2 project, or Mo Farah taking gold in the London 2012 Olympics or Jan Frodeno smashing the Ironman world record.

Visualise the pain they must have gone through to achieve their goals. The suffering they endured and the utterly immeasurable sense of pride and accomplishment on reaching such lofty heights.

33fuel how to keep running when you want to stop - imagine your hero

Picture your hero standing on this beach, ready to give it everything

4. Remember why you’re doing it

Running because you want a six-pack or slim legs might be an effective motivator in the short-term, but it’s unlikely to last.

Rather than running for a body shape or arbitrary 10k time, what about running because you want to be fitter, healthier and ultimately live longer or because you want more time with your family? Or because you’re raising money for a charity close to your heart?

5. Reward yourself

We’re not advocating always associating running with reward – particularly junk food rewards – or that you should run to burn off an unhealthy diet. But there’s no escaping the fact that a slice of your favourite cake is motivating when you’re in the locker.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you have a healthy relationship with food and eat a balanced diet 80% of the time, reward yourself with that treat if it’ll motivate you to get out there and hit your session.

6. Think form

Take your mind off your racing heart and building lactate by evaluating your running form. Like counting, distracting yourself with a simple checklist is effective in passing the time. Plus, focusing on form will correct any errors that are creeping in are you tire.

Next time you’re in the well, do a head-to-toe body check:

  • Keep your head up
  • Look at the horizon, not your feet
  • Relaxed shoulders
  • Drive your elbows back
  • Engage your core
  • Bring your knees through
  • Kick back
  • Relaxed ankles
  • Strong foot-plant
  • Slight lean forward

And bingo. Once you’ve gone through that list, you’ll have killed a couple of minutes and will be running better than ever.

33fuel how to keep running when you want to stop - running form

Focus on form to distract your mind from the immediate discomfort

7. Do it for those who can’t

This is a powerful one. Think of those who would love to but are unable to run, perhaps due to disability or illness. They would give anything to be in your position. They couldn’t give a cr@p how fast or far they go, they’d just give everything to be able to run.

Remember, you get to do this.

8. Get counting

Counting is a surprisingly effective means of passing the time. Your brain won’t be able to process complex thought processes but simple counting occupies your mind enough to distract from the immediate pain.

Count 100 steps. Count 200 steps. Count how many steps to the next lamppost or until the next rest interval. Challenge yourself to count as high as you can before you lose concentration (I once made it to 2,500!).

9. Imagine the ground is moving beneath you

33fuel how to keep running when you want to stop - treadmill

Imagine running on a treadmill with the ground speeding underneath you

When the going gets tough, imagine running on a treadmill. The earth is moving beneath you and all you have to do is pick up your feet. It’s helping push you along.

10. Channel your inner Ranulph Fiennes

When I asked the world’s greatest living explorer what he thinks about when he wants to stop, he was a bit puzzled and, after a moment simply said, “you’ve just got to man up really”.

“Man up” is one of my least favourite mantras, but sometimes it’s just what’s needed.

How to keep running when you want to stop - conclusion

It can be hard to push through when you want to stop, but developing the mental strength to either smash those barriers or know when to pull the plug is crucial to long term endurance performance development.

What motivates you to keep going?

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