Combat Excuses and Run Mentally Tough Even When Things Suck

It’s ‘easy’ to run fast when everything is going right. Ideal conditions, you’re hitting perfect splits, the legs have POP. The thing is though, the real test of a runner and their mental toughness is how they respond to all the other days.

There will workouts in heat, wind, and rain. Runs where, for whatever reason your legs just don’t ‘show up’…they are flat. Other times you’ll be left gutting out a really tough workout but forced to run it solo. But you can’t take those things as EXCUSES. FACTORS, certainly, perhaps you’ll have to adjust the workout, but don’t start looking for a cop-out.
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See, your mind is an expert manipulator. It’s already looking for ANY kind of excuse, viable reason to tell you to stop this silly running, ease up, slow down, cut yourself some slack. A runner’s constantly working against that sort of ingrained human trait, to push past the limits the mind is imposing on the body.

A runner must combat the voices of doubt and complaining already…think of it like a basal level of white noise in the background that you must ignore just to get out the door and running the first few steps. Hard workouts up the ante, taking that constant background chatter and giving it a megaphone; you’ve got to not only ignore it but COMBAT it by telling it to, “Shut the h*** up!” Gearing yourself up to run hard takes extra mental reserves, through the course of the workout the amount of positive self-talk escalates as you tire, as the pain REALLY sets in.

Running that hard workout when things are all falling into place, the momentum of hitting the splits and you’re clicking, is infinitely easier than when even ONE thing is off. (ex: it’s hot out) That single ‘off-factor’ and your mind JUMPS on the opportunity for a cop-out, “Just cut yourself some slack, I mean it’s hot out.”

Ease up and that quickly can morph into this the next hard workout: “Just cut yourself some slack, your legs just feel flat today. It’s not your fault…just ease up today and next time when your legs feel really good we’ll go hard…deal?”

See, that slippery, manipulative brain of yours works fast. You can’t wait for that ‘perfect’ day for a few reasons:

1) PERFECT: Those fan-freaking-tasting workouts are the anomaly, wait around for them and they darn well may never come.
2) VICIOUS CYCLE: Start giving in to that whining brain every time the pain sets in and things get tough and it’s the snowball effect. Soon you’ll be pulling out every time you have a hangnail on your pinkie toe.

Bad workouts and horrible races happen, they actually make you a TOUGHER runner because if you can mentally get through them, stay strong and still give it all you had for the day, you’ll prove something very important to yourself:

I can run when it sucks. I can run better when it doesn’t suck…but I CAN run when things are really sucky.

Those mental battles, where you win, build confidence. You need that. Conversely, take too many of those excuses to not still give it your all out there running and you get used to it. Getting used to that is like the kiss of death for a runner…it’s like a fatal virus. Because running hurts, despite how much we must deny it to ourselves for the sake of actually doing it.
tough runner
You have to be tough to be a runner. The TOUGH runners are the ones who battle through even when the splits are off, they get stuck in no-man’s land during a race, and they’re doing a hard workout by themselves.

Some of the workouts you should be most proud of may have been where you were running horribly off pace, but you got through it. You were TOUGH. Next time, when the legs do show up, the times will come but you’ll have the extra confidence of knowing you can run hard when things suck.

1) Weather is certainly something to FACTOR into your workouts of course and adjust the times. How do you plan to adjust due to the elements and conditions outside of your control?

2) How do you handle the workouts where your legs just don’t show up for the day? What kind of positive self-talk do you turn to?

3) Share a workout or race that you are proud of for your mental toughness, maybe a part of the story the actual numbers can’t fully recount.

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19 thoughts on “Combat Excuses and Run Mentally Tough Even When Things Suck

  1. Great post! When it comes to nasty weather, I tell myself that it is just another race condition I’m preparing for- after all, I wouldn’t skip a race because its windy/raining, so why would I let it affect a workout? As far as a race where I had mental toughness…my last college race was a last chance meet. It was a long shot to qualify for nationals and I ended up in no-man’s land between the fast lead pack and the slower runners. It was tough, and I didn’t qualify, but I didn’t let myself quit or give up.

  2. Love this post. I have to be honest – my brain rarely wants to give up. I find my body wants to quick before my mind lol. I hate those runs where my legs don’t show up and I always tell myself that for every “bad” run, a great run is on the horizon for the next day. I usually push my legs through the bad runs or simply allow myself to cross train and/or slow the pace when it is clear my body isn’t in cooperation with my mind’s desire to keep going. I really try to listen to my body to the best of my ability…as for a great race that displayed just how tough I am, I recently ran the Fitness Mag Women’s Half in NYC and not only PRed, but ran it with an injured shoulder that almost kept me out of the race completely. It was a rough taper week of not knowing if I would be able to run that race but my legs were game, my mind was game and my arm (all KT Taped) hung in for the win as well. I was very proud of myself.

    • glad u like this post. :) way to rock that half…talk about mentally tough on all levels! i’ll bet that PR felt even sweeter…well, minus the shoulder feeling. ;)

  3. I needed this this week :) I am in a definite slump mode and am not sure where my legs are, but they’re not attached to my mind when I’m running! I know I’ll get back into a positive stride but in the mean time, this is a nice reminder. Thanks :)

  4. You know what? SUCK at listening to my bod and taking into account things like heat. Some days I will push through by hook or by crook, and some days I slow to a crawl.

    I wish I knew more about ho often to go ‘hard’ and what ‘hard’ really means.

    • my two cents would be to aim for two quality workouts a week with easy days between. hard is hard to quantify…haha…but think on a scale of 1-10 you’re hitting an 8-9. it’s definitely working, but not every session should be at race level effort either. oh the ever-ambigosity of running. :P

  5. When my legs don’t show up…I guess I just make my head work harder. Unless something is really ringing the warning bells physically, I know I’m committed to doing the workout, so I might as well get it done!

    I can remember a small, local, 2-loop 5K quite a few years ago – I was running in 3rd place after the first loop. I set out on the second and reeled in the second place girl by staying steady and strong. I was coming up on the first place girl in the last 3/4 of a mile…which we ran ON THE BEACH. I was so close to just tucking in behind her and finishing strong in second place. But some competitive gear clicked, I pretended that I just! loved! running in the sand, and I gunned it to the end. It wasn’t the time or the place that made the race memorable – but the fact that I had an easy out that I chose NOT to take, and pushed all the way to the end, under conditions I don’t really like, even when I didn’t want to. I still whip that memory out when the going gets tough some days! :)

  6. It seems like the days I am not really feeling the run but do it anyways, I always tend to run longer and faster!! I guess it is my mind and body’s way of showing me who is boss!

  7. I hate the treadmill, so I run in almost any weather conditions. The only time I don’t is if it’s dangerous (i.e. chance of tornadoes, bad lightning, snow/ice making it dangerous to run on the road with cars)

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