We Are Born to Run

In Fitness / Health, Running

This is an article by Matt Roberts (celebrity Personal Fitness Instructor). 

Article updated May 2021

You only have to watch a child sprint across a playground to understand it is a natural instinct. But in later life, it’s often more than you can bear to pull on your trainers and get outside. Half the battle is knowing how to tell yourself that you can do it.

Our natural reaction to pain is to avoid it. Hit your hand while hammering nails and you quickly adjust your approach to ensure that you are more careful next time. However, with running (and exercise, generally), our relationship with pain is more complex.

We know that the discomfort or “pain” is probably good for us so we endure the downside, to some degree, in order to reach the upside – we might lose weight, or run farther or faster, or perhaps win a race if we are prepared to put up with a degree of pain that in any other context might have us calling for a doctor.

Yet there are countless occasions where our bodies will try to convince us to stop. A few mental techniques are essential to getting us going.

Give yourself a talking-to

Positive self-talk is a powerful motivational method. Talk to yourself in your head as you are running. Tell yourself that you will feel great when you have finished. Tell yourself that the act of running itself makes you feel lucky to be alive, fit and healthy enough to enjoy it. Also, remind yourself that what you are doing is fantastic for you now and for your future. You are doing a proactive, healthy thing that will prolong your life – feel proud about that! Each self-talk phrase that you say to yourself has to be a positive message with no negatives. No “ifs”, no “buts”.

We are more used to allowing negatives to focus the mind rather than allowing positives to influence us, so this can be tough. However, the reality is that if you tell yourself that you are going to struggle, you will – a negative, defeatist attitude will make it far more difficult to get through the physical effort.

While we can’t help but let negatives enter our thoughts to some extent (it is human nature after all), you should try to fight them off and keep a positive attitude throughout. Even when everything else is hurting, tell yourself that “it is better to try your very best and to fail, than to not ever try to give your best at all”.

Visualisation works

Imagine yourself on your run, feeling well and strong, with great running posture. Think about how it feels to run well, and then turn that thought into pictures in your mind. Now visualise the route of your run and consider how you will manage each section. If you know that there are hills on the run, picture them in advance. Map out your run so that you know how far you will be going, what the terrain you will encounter is like, and have an understanding of what you are about to achieve.

How do you see yourself as a runner? Are you someone who looks like they are struggling through it? Think of yourself instead as a graceful runner who conserves and uses energy wisely. How does that look? Picture your stride pattern in detail – the strike of your foot on the ground, the number of strides you take and the pattern of your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe deeply and in control and visualise that, too.

Finally, picture yourself finishing your run. Think how great you will feel when you get to the end, and think about how that looks.

You need to build this picture of yourself as a runner – a good one, too. Remember, you are no different to anybody else and you can do just as much as everyone around you, so don’t put limitations on yourself as you visualise your run.

Give yourself a goal

You’re far more likely to derive enjoyment from your running if you have a definite reason to keep going. You may find your motivation comes from beating a particular set time or completing a set distance, or you may be focused on winning a race or getting as high a place as you can. For many people, these goals provide the incentives they need.

If you struggle for a sense of purpose, you can always use other fallbacks. Charity is the most obvious and well-used incentive for running. Marathons and other distance races raise huge amounts of money for charity every year. Having to complete a run for charity forces you to do the training for fear of letting down your sponsors, the cause and yourself. It is a powerful pressure to complete your training.

For many people, exercise is a means to ensure that they are healthy and well. Rather than achieving a set time or distance, your goal may be the knowledge that your heart and lungs, internal organs and bones all benefit from the exercise that running provides. You will only know how much you miss your health once it is gone, so focus on the fact that regular running will help keep you fit and healthy, alive for longer, and with fewer illnesses along the way.

Fired up and ready to run? Make sure you get the right kit by reading The Essential Running Kit Edit