Mind Games

Posted on February 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Self-discipline is hard.  If it were easy, we wouldn’t worry so much about keeping New Year’s resolutions.  We wouldn’t have to enlist workout accountability partners.   There would be no such thing as a diet.  And “regret” would be as foreign a word as “in shape.”

When it comes to running, it sometimes takes more mental discipline to go not the extra mile, but the distance I’ve planned for the day.  It doesn’t matter if I have a training schedule posted on my refrigerator and I’m preparing for a race.  It doesn’t matter what distance I ran yesterday, or the week before.  Or ever.  Some days even the shortest distance feels like a marathon.  On those days, I have to trick myself into running.

We’ve all done it.  Forced ourselves to stare at the ground a car’s length ahead, to focus on where we are right now and not on the hill in the distance or the looooonnnnng length of road up ahead. Yet we glance up periodically, seeking out the nearest landmark.  If we can just make it to that stop sign, we tell ourselves, we can stop running and walk.  When we reach the stop sign we reward ourselves, pat ourselves on the back.  But we don’t actually stop.  Instead, we choose another landmark and promise ourselves that if we make it to that azalea bush, then we’ll stop. Smell the flowers.  Tie or retie our shoes.  But, of course, we don’t stop even then.  We scan the horizon, pick another landmark, and plod on.

Sometimes our mind games are more emphatically played.  We must run a little faster, we tell ourselves, around this curve and past these few houses.  We have to, you see, because we refuse to vomit on these nice people’s lawns.  And so running becomes incredibly mental as we push our bodies to do—or not do—what at the time seems like the impossible.

How do you keep yourself going?  Leave a comment and tell us what mental games you play when you run.


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3 Responses to “Mind Games”

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Man, this post was timely for me. I just finished the longest month long running drought, just couldnt seem to make my feet do anything I wanted them to do. I’m 3 days coming out of it and found my secret to be the same as yours, just on the inside. I was on the treadmill and told myself … just run 2 minutes, then you can stop. When I got to 2, I said, 3. Then 4. By minute 5 my body had finally warmed up and was able to take me as far as I wanted to go. It was a real breakthrough. Hate that running is like that. Great post


While in the Army, I hated the tactic, but I can appreciate it now. There is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment of finishing a run up a hill, on a certain route, or against a clock. And the Army’s mentality doesn’t just give you that accomplishment on your own. Nope, we have to name the route, “The Devil’s Elbow” or “The Stairway to Heaven” for starters. But then some very smart individual likes to spray paint encouraging messages on the side of the road, “This isn’t even halfway” or “Turn back now” were truly disheartening. Of course my favorite is still, “If you think this is steep, wait until you turn the corner.”

All these mind games were hell at the time, but when you do reach the top, when you are staring back at the route you have made it through, or you say, I finished the climb in x minutes, you know you accomplished something. There is a great swelling of pride at a moment like that. I look forward to those moments. I use past moments to propel me forward.

Thanks for posting your thoughts.


I like that–you use past moments to propel you forward. Sometimes that’s the whole game–being able to recall those past moments.


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