How to keep on going when you want to stop in the middle of a run

Running comebacks can be frustrating. Here's how you can make a successful return

If it helps, turn to podcasts, music or audiobooks to distract you over the blips. Photograph: iStock

If it helps, turn to podcasts, music or audiobooks to distract you over the blips. Photograph: iStock

 

If you have been on a running comeback the last few weeks, you may have had moments (or even miles) on your run where you have seriously questioned your ability to return to your former running comfort zone. No matter how many years we have been running, these negative voices in our head can come to the surface and try to convince us to stop as we try and rebuild our fitness, strength and confidence after a break.

Running comebacks can be frustrating. I notice it a lot in runners who have taken a break after a long training season. Many long-distance runners from last year who have finally stopped celebrating are hitting the roads with a level of disappointment and surprise at how difficult the comeback is. What used to be a very easy run is now a challenge. Their mind questions how they ever measured a run in hours rather than minutes.

You don’t have to have a marathon medal in your back pocket to feel the challenge of the comeback. Whatever your “long run” distance is, if you haven’t run for a while your body will naturally have lost some of its ability to keep positive and focused on a run. Our minds tend to focus on everything that isn’t working, rather than all that is. Time goes slower than it should and minutes can feel more like miles. Don’t give up though, very soon your body will remember that running is wonderful and start to enjoy it again. In the meantime however, it is useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve for those moments when you consider turning around and going home.

Stand up tall

When we are tired or negative our body can reflect our mood. We may drop our good posture, run heavy and look down. Changing our physical body can help the mind feel more positive. Look where you are going, lengthen your body into good posture, relax your shoulders and instantly you will improve your breathing and feel lighter.

Fake it til you make it

I have often mentioned the benefits of putting on a smile, even a fake one, to trick the body into believing it is enjoying the run. Not only will it relax your upper body, but you will look more comfortable, feel more confident and possibly even convince yourself you are lucky to be able to run.

Count

While it is a great skill to be able to focus inward on our breathing, technique and rhythm, sometimes we need another focus. A simple challenge is to start to count. You will be less likely to overthink as your attention is drawn towards the numbers. Count your steps, count the number of cars that you pass, count your breaths or simply just count to 100. Aim to stay focused on the numbers and you might just forget you are running.

Make a game

Think about what games you may have played in a car with children to keep busy and pass the time. How many different “blue” things can you count. How many noises can you hear? Can you guess the colour of the next car? You can create any game, just make it something that will keep your attention. Can you name a celebrity whose name starts with each letter of the alphabet? I guarantee you won’t get through the alphabet before you get back in the running zone.

Leave the watch at home

If you are finding that you are focusing on your pace and getting frustrated at how breathless you are, consider leaving the watch at home and running at a pace where you can breathe comfortably. It is natural to feel annoyed and frustrated if your “usual” pace is hard to maintain. Run for a certain number of minutes rather than a paced distance. Without the stress and pressure of the clock your body can focus more on the run rather than the performance. Slow down and aim to finish the run comfortable rather than exhausted.

Break your run into a series of five- or 10-minute sections and reward yourself with a little break after each section. Photograph: iStock
Break your run into a series of five- or 10-minute sections and reward yourself with a little break after each section. Photograph: iStock

Take a break

If running consistently for 30 minutes or longer is mentally too challenging, consider breaking your run into sections. There are no rules to suggest that you cannot stop along the route. Break your run into a series of five- or 10-minute sections and reward yourself with a little break after each section. Allow yourself a walk break but limit the number of steps you take before you run again. One hundred is a nice round number. Rather than looking at the whole run as one endurance exercise, you only need to think as far as the next walk break.

Block it out

My mindful Chi Running colleagues will have to close their ears to this one, but if it does help, turn to podcasts, music or audiobooks to distract you over the blips. While in the long term it is better to run with our ears free, if it helps build our base and get us out the door, go for it. A tech-free version of this involves enlisting a friend to go with you. The chat, even if you are complaining about your running fitness, will keep you distracted and stop you from giving up.

We all have waves of discomfort, doubt, frustration or boredom on our running comebacks. You are completely normal if you are the same. Don’t give up. The beauty of being a runner on a comeback is that a have already experienced all the positives that come with a regular running practice. These benefits are just around the corner if you stick to your routine.

Running won’t always be easy but the more consistent we become, the more our body will know what to expect, grow to enjoy it and settle in.

Hang in there.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is 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!

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