Whether it’s a long run or a hard session, there are some workouts that just seem daunting from the moment we set eyes on them. The thing is, it’s those sessions that will often bring the biggest training benefits.
How can we get through them and reap the rewards? How can we stop ourselves from stopping or even worse, not even starting?
Below are a collection of tips and tricks. Almost all of them rely on knowing yourself, your mental blockers and your motivations. This is a valuable training asset in itself. Once you’ve tried some you’ll know which work best for you.
Know why you’re doing it
If you’re doing something hard, it always helps to know why it’s worth doing. Ask questions, do research, learn about your body. If you have a coach, don’t be afraid to ask them what the training goal of the session is.
When you come to understand why on earth you are smashing out 20 miles on a Saturday morning when everyone else is in bed, it will be much easier to stick at it. A simple example – the long run is essential for a marathon – you will not only build your aerobic base but you also need to build the mental fortitude and confidence to run long. If you didn’t do it, how would it affect your enjoyment of the event you are training for? Quite a lot probably. So, push through now and reap the reward later.
Know how your mind works
Learn to pre-empt the things that will hinder you. Do you tend to procrastinate and not get around to running? Get your kit out the night before and arrange something to look forward to at a specific time afterwards so, that you have to get it done before that point in time.
Do you struggle with fuelling? Perhaps you can run past a friend’s house so, they can hand you a drink or gel and cheer you on.
Choose your route wisely
This fits with knowing your mind. Choosing your route wisely can make a huge difference.
If you’re running an interval session then small loop that you can go round and round will make it feel more bite-sized and easier to pace.
If you want to run 16 miles you might find it easier to run twice round an 8 miles loop so that each section seems less daunting. However, if you know that running past your house will mean you stop and go home, don’t do it. Do an out and back route instead so, that you have to cover the distance because it is the only way home.
Perhaps you find monotony an issue? Drive to a new starting location and plot a new route to take you to beautiful or interesting places.
Another way of switching it up is to run a normal route but take a playlist with you and listen to something different to usual.
One of my favourite ways to run when I’ve not got to worry about pace but just need to get the miles in is to do a ‘destination run’. Either go somewhere with the family in the car and run home while they drive home or run to somewhere to meet people. I get them to bring me a towel and change of clothes so I can have a quick sink-wash (it’s enough as a stop gap!).
Perhaps you can fit a race or parkrun in the middle or at the end of your session? It’s a great way to get a boost when you might be flagging and also to practice race conditions without the pressure.
Mental tricks during the run
This is the big one. Different tricks will work for different people.
Set small goals and trick yourself. If you’ve got 10 reps to do, tell yourself you will do 7 and see how you feel. I always take one off my rep-count and make the last one a ‘bonus’. So, I’m working hard for 9 reps and then the last one is just for fun, however it goes.
Visualise. I like to imagine a clock face. Let me explain – if I’m running a 20 minute effort block, I’ll have a picture of a clock face in my mind. When I’ve run for 5 minutes the big hand is at ‘quarter past’. As soon as I’m over the 5 minute barrier I picture that the hand is nearly at ‘half past’ and keep focussing on that until I’ve got to the 10 minutes. Then, as soon as I tick over 10 minutes I imagine the hand is nearly at “quarter to”.
Other types of visualisation could be imagining how you will feel when you complete the session successfully or imagining a picture of yourself finishing the race that you are training for.
Try counting. Paula Radcliffe was famous for counting to 100 as she ran. Personally, I count backwards from 60. It’s rare that you can’t grit something out for another 60 seconds, and I’m always slightly behind, so a minute actually goes quicker than I think it will.
Change your mindset. Kieran Alger recently ran the entire length of the Danube river for charity. He says “I found that flipping my mindset from battling what’s left, to accepting that finishing is inevitable, made a huge difference. It’s a positive message rather than a negative one and oddly liberating”.
Technology is your friend
Make technology work for you. Running on a treadmill where the paces are pre-programmed (using Kinni) or programming a workout into your GPS watch will take some of the stress out of the session. That leaves you free to put all your mental effort into hitting your goals. Even thinking about how you programme your session is worth consideration. Would you find it easier to see 5 x 1k reps or 1x 5k rep if the pace was the same for each?
Treadmills sometimes have a reputation for being boring for long runs, but that’s not the case. There can be something meditative about just dialling in the pace and going long on the ‘mill.
Chuck some tunes on and enjoy rolling along with nothing to hinder you. You can even get someone to come and deliver you fuel or water at regular intervals like you’re a pro runner! If you’ve got a NoblePro Elite 8i you could watch TV or listen to Spotify! Both NoblePro treadmills allow you to even have a virtual run on Zwift.
GO AND DO IT!
In the end, there’s only one way to find out what works. Go and do it and try lots of different things. You’ve been given a gift of running, go and enjoy it!