Six steps to keep you running even when you feel like stopping

Psychological tricks can motivate you as alternatives to stopping or walking

We all know what it is like to become overwhelmed by that anxious feeling on the run. We convince ourselves that we are not able for the distance and something inside us tells us to stop. The easiest thing to do in this situation is give in to the feeling. However, that only gets us as far as the next time these feelings arise and we have to stop again. Instead of fearing these moments and trying to avoid them, we could try to embrace them and accept them.

Accept the inevitable.

How we manage these mid-run setbacks determines how the rest of our run will go. It also impacts our confidence the next time we put on our running shoes. There are ups and downs in running like everything else and the downs pass by reasonably quickly if we just accept their inevitability. Welcoming these mental stumbling blocks may not seem the most appealing thing to do, but if we have a plan in place for how to deal with their arrival, we don’t waste our running energy worrying about the next one, we just get on with the run and handle the blip.

Welcome the feeling.

The first step is to notice the arrival of the feeling of fatigue or negativity. We all experience it differently but the impact is the same. We doubt our ability and are tempted to quit. Decide in advance what you going to do when you next feel this.

Here are the steps I aim to follow when I get the urge to stop:

1. Don’t walk just yet

For a runner who has a goal of “running all the way” stopping to walk is demoralising. There are no rules against walking in a run, but I find that once I stop to walk once I will walk 20 times in a run. I suggest you keep running but slow right down. Shake out the tension from your arms and legs, and imagine yourself running on the spot or indeed on a treadmill. This will calm your breathing and allow you to think more clearly. More often than not the temptation to stop will pass and you will return to your running comfort zone gradually. This slow jog offers us a moment to decide if now is the time to walk, or if indeed we just need a moment of less-intense running to catch our breath.

2. Check in on your posture

When we are feeling down on our run, it shows in our body. From the sidelines we all can recognise a runner who is going through a bad patch. They look deflated. Treat this negative feeling on your run as a message from your body to remind you that you could be making running easier for yourself. Check in with your running posture, notice if your gaze has dropped to the ground, pop on your fake smile and imagine the person in front of you is pulling you along by a string. Being pulled along rather than having to push ourselves along is surely an easier way to travel. After a few moments of imagining a more comfortable run, you will feel lighter, relaxed and positive.

3. The power of distraction

While, in theory, we all should be focused on our running form throughout, there can come a point where distracting ourselves from the run is just what we need to get over the hurdle. For some runners this can mean turning on their favourite song or indeed signing themselves. I’m a big fan of the running metronome to keep my feet ticking over quickly. For others simply playing counting games or trying to remember a famous person’s name who starts with every letter of the alphabet can do the trick. Find your game of choice and start playing it when you feel like you need to stop thinking about running.

4. Bribe yourself

Carry a stash of emergency goodies that you can refuel with when you hit these slumps. A little bag of sweets can mentally and physically give you a little lift and set you back on the right path. Accept it will take a little time for the sugar rush to kick in, but knowing that is an energy lift coming is enough for many of us to keep on going. A little bribery can go a long way for a mentally tired runner. Allow yourself another treat when you get to the next mile marker and don’t look beyond that next milestone. Keep your head in the mile you are in.

5. Remember why

Having a little reminder of why running is important to us is valuable when negative thoughts abound. You might have a running mantra you can repeat to shift your mindset to a more positive place. If that doesn’t work for you, many runners gain more from visual motivation. They draw little doodles or motivational quotes on their hands which remind them of the people who are counting on them or those who have helped them get this far. If you can’t have a supporter on the sidelines, this is the next best thing to having real-life cheerleaders.

6. Set a step limit

If you still feel like stopping after all of the above and decide that walking is what you need, then go for it. There is absolutely no shame in walking, but you do need to set a few rules. The longer you walk, the harder it is to get back running. Setting a limit to the distance you can walk is a great way of giving yourself a controlled break. In long distance runs, I allow myself 100 steps and then get myself back running again very slowly. I may have multiple mini walks like this as I know if I walk longer than a minute or so I’ll convince myself to stay walking for much longer.

You are not alone.

We can get so caught up in our own run that it’s very easy to forget that everyone else on the road also experiences these mid-run setbacks. We all have to manage these running demons and they catch us all when we might be least expecting them. The best runners just know how to recognise these moments arriving and have plans in place to help accept these as part of the running journey.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Mary's new book is Get Running, published by Gill Books

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