Fake a smile, listen to upbeat music and other ways to overcome a slump while running

Mary Jennings: Dips in energy and enthusiasm can hit at any point along a run. Here is how to bounce back

Do you ever hit a slump along your run? One minute you feel great and then suddenly running feels like hard work. You go from running strong and effortlessly to feeling like you are carrying heavy weights around your ankles. These dips in energy and enthusiasm can hit at any point along a run. On some days you may even experience more than one. But the good news is that you are not alone. We all get them and they can actually be a good thing.

Handling the slumps

How we handle these dips along our run can really impact the remainder of our run and our self-belief in our ability. So firstly, let’s accept that everyone hits these hurdles at some point on the run, not just you. Now let’s reframe these dips from being something negative into reminders to check in with your body. Rather than question your running ability and dip into negativity, let’s come up with a plan of what you will do when you next hit one of these mid-run setbacks.

Need some ideas?

Here are some of my favourite simple tricks that I coach runners to apply on the run when they need a boost. The key is to make the tip so simple that you can do it when you really don’t have the energy to focus on complicated technique, breathwork or any of the other elements of performance that require concentration.

  • 1) Look where you are going: The first thing that happens to most of us when we feel tired and heavy on a run is that we lose our running posture. We find ourselves bent at the waist and looking at the ground in front of us. This is one sure way to feel heavier in your body. You reduce the space for air in your lungs and you prevent the body from running strong and efficiently. Simply by looking in the direction you are going and keeping your gaze on something in front of you, you will breathe better, run taller and feel lighter.
  • 2) Relax from head to toe: As runners, we can hold a lot of tension right throughout our body. Why waste energy on holding tension? Instead spend a minute noticing where you are tight and let it go. Start at the top of your head and work down. While we want to run tall, that doesn’t mean stiff. So picture yourself being a tall rag doll – suspended by a string from the crown of your head with relaxed and loose arms and legs. Aim to look and feel relaxed rather than tense.
  • 3) 100-step walk/jog: There is no shame in walking, although we can often beat ourselves up for taking a break. If you know you have started running too fast or feel a lot of tension in your body, why not use a structured walk or slow your pace to a jog as a reset. To catch your breath, drop tension and refresh your posture, give yourself 100 steps of walking (or very slow running if you would prefer not to walk) while shaking out your arms before you ease back into your run again.
  • 4) Fake a smile: It’s easy to spot someone who is going through a tough part on a run. You can tell in their face as well as their posture. So start by tricking yourself into feeling great and notice how a smile, even a fake one, will help your body rise up, feel stronger and release tension in your shoulders and below. It might seem a silly thing to do, but why shouldn’t we smile? It helps everything from our mood to our muscle tension. For an added bonus, talk to yourself. Tell yourself you are feeling great, you are strong and you are a great runner. Even if you don’t quite believe it at this moment, a minute of this will bring you back on track.
  • 5) Emergency music: While there are times to focus on our run, sometimes it is nice also to have a distraction. Having a short playlist of songs that makes you feel good can be your backup soundtrack. Choosing songs that are at a great rhythm to stop you plodding can boost your energy and help you reduce your stride length which will make you feel less heavy on the run. Aim for songs with 170-180 beats per minute or if you are familiar with working on running cadence, set your metronome to bring your footing back on track.
  • 6) Look at the big picture: It is so easy to get caught up in the clock, our pacing and our breath, but sometimes taking the focus completely off ourselves can be just what we need. Look around you instead. How lucky are you to be able to get out and run. Pay special attention to your surroundings, say hello to others as they pass, soak in the beauty of the season we are in. There are plenty of others who would love to be in your shoes right now. Choose to be happy where you are at.
  • 7) Play a game: If more distraction is required, play a game with yourself that will keep your gaze upwards and your mind away from negative thoughts. Count the number of cars that pass you or the number of steps you take on each breath, or simply count down from 100 to zero. Using our imagination can really help here too. Why not bring your mind back to a run where you felt great and picture yourself running there again now.

Pick one from the list


These slumps along our run can come from many reasons. It may be our speed, technique, posture, energy, hormones or even just one of those days. What we have going on in our lives outside of running can also play a huge part in how running feels. But there is always something you can do to lift your mood, your posture and your energy on the run. So, next time you feel that little blip on your running path, pick one tip from the list above and focus on it for a minute or two. You will be pleasantly surprised with the boost in positivity it gives you.

- Sign up for one of The Irish Times’s Get Running programmes (it’s free!) First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.

  • Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
  • Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week
  • 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark. Best of luck!

- Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at ForgetTheGym.ie. Her final “Feel Better Running” Workshop of 2022 takes place this Sunday, October 9th, in Donabate, Dublin.