On the RUN with RUNGRL: The Mental Side of Running

Vonnie from RUNGRL sits and stretches before a run

At some point, we’ve all hit a mental wall that threatens to end our run before it starts feeling good. In this episode of On the Run with RUNGRL, we catch up with runners Lauren and Vonnie, who discuss the mental side of running and the desire to balance both mental and physical health.

Prioritizing the Run

If you’re anything like our hosts, you’ve probably struggled to make time for your commitments—especially the ones you make to yourself. Vonnie admits it’s difficult for her to set aside “her time” from the time she gives everyone else.

“I’ll say to myself, ‘You said this morning that you’re going to knock out two miles. But you really don’t feel like it,” says Vonnie.

It can be easy to cross off going for a run to shorten your (very long) mental to-do list. Instead of letting business defeat you, think about the mental clarity and energy you will come away with after a great run. Studies show that exercise on workdays can improve your time management skills by 72%. Remember, this journey is important to you. During an overwhelming day, making time for yourself will leave you less stressed and ready to tackle other tasks, full speed ahead.

Lauren from RUNGRL stretches her arms before a run wearing her Garmin GPS watch

The Hardest Part: Starting the Run

Let’s face it: there are days when the couch and the latest Netflix series are just more appealing than another grueling session of pounding the pavement. As physics tells us, an object at rest stays at rest. Mustering up your motivation to get in motion is often referenced as the toughest mental hurdle to a good workout.

“I think the hardest part is starting the run. And then once I’m in there, I’m like, ‘I feel good!’” Vonnie says.

Lauren agrees. “Once I start, that’s when I feel a little better,” she says.

The runner’s high is not a myth. Around 20 minutes into the run, you can expect that surge of good-feeling emotions that Vonnie and Lauren reference in the video. This euphoric state comes when exercise produces endorphins in the brain. Runners can enjoy these mood-boosting benefits for up to 12hrs. Clinical studies show that just 15 minutes of exercise daily can produce enough endorphins to reduce symptoms of depression.

“But then some days I get on there, Vonnie says, “and the whole time I’m just like...you probably should’ve just taken today off and restarted the next day.” “What’s the alternative, sit and watch TV?” says Lauren. “Even if it’s just a mile. Let me just see what it feels like.”

If you’re struggling to get your brain on board for a workout, try bribery. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, creating incentives can enhance motivation. Try rewarding yourself with an episode of your favorite TV show after you’ve gone on a run. By giving yourself a new reason to run, you’ll be more likely to get out there and start raising those endorphin levels.

Negative Self-Talk

By definition, the American Psychological Association (APA) says that negative self-talk is an internal dialogue in which an individual utters phrases to themselves that often confirm and reinforce negative beliefs and attitudes. Examples of this may be phrases like, “This run is going to suck” or “I’m too lazy to run.” Lauren says she likes to give herself a few days off on the days when she's struggling with negative self-talk.

“I’m just thinking to myself, maybe I need to take a break so I can appreciate it a little more,” says Lauren. If days off aren’t in your favor, turn your mental block into a thought catalyst. Several mental health studies recommend trading your limiting language for positive-self talk that encourages constructive behaviors. “In sport, athletes are trained to use positive self-talk for cueing the body to act in particular ways, to cue attentional focus, to motivate, to reinforce self-efficacy, and to facilitate the creation of an ideal performance state.” Think of this as your permission to have your own hype-huddle. Instead of talking yourself out of a run, try talking yourself into one.

Vonnie from RUNGRL closes her eyes before a run

The Mind-Body Connection

While the runners in the video don’t touch on injuries, they reference the mental impact body changes have had on them as athletes. Vonnie opens up about how becoming a mother altered how she mentally and physically approached her runs.

“I can say that on the other side of motherhood, my body is totally different. There were times that I thought I could jump back into running as I did before. And so I had to impart grace on myself that my body isn’t the same.”

It’s normal to experience some physical discomfort after injury or pregnancy. It’s also natural to be unsure of yourself or cautious when returning to a sport that demands a lot on your body. Build confidence back up by not being judgmental or critical of your performance.

“Before, I used to look at my pace and get hype about it. Or I’d get down because my pace isn’t a certain thing,” Vonnie begins. “But I had to really remove that from my mind post-having-kids, and say, ‘You know if you’re running and you’re moving... then you’re doing good!’ I had to listen to my body and let that lead whatever my workout is going to be.”

The next time you find yourself being critical about your performance, give yourself some grace. Listen to your body, but don't let life's changes discourage you.

Lauren from RUNGRL smiles as she runs down the sidewalk

Let the Run Be What It Is. Go Watchless.

You may not have considered tracking yourself as a mental hindrance, but it may be distracting you from a great run. Tracking devices can add an unhelpful layer of comparison or self-competition to your workout.

“My watch will tell me, I guess based on the other runs that I’ve done, how that run went,” Lauren says. “It will tell me ‘Oh! you’re maintaining’ or ‘This was a productive run’ and then I’ll get ‘This run was unproductive.’”

“You know, funny story! I actually had to take my watch off.” Vonnie says.

“I had to adjust my reality when it comes to my running. Having my watch on sometimes didn’t lend to a positive run.”

Vonnie describes how looking down and seeing a disappointing pace or time threw her mental game off. So she started going on runs without any tracking devices and just “Let the run be what it is.” We’ll say that one more time for the runners in the back. Let the run be what it is. If you’re in the habit of comparing your pace or mileage to your last run (or to others), maybe it’s time to take a break from the devices.

Be Okay With Bad Days

When it comes to having a bad day, Vonnie begins by admitting it took some time to cope when she wasn’t running her best.

“I’ve learned to be good with bad days,” she says. “I don’t think I've always been okay with bad days. But what I would say to other runners that fall on bad days or have hard runs is to give yourself grace.”

As athletes, the temptation is to push ourselves to train harder or get down on ourselves during a lousy run. Know that several factors could contribute to having a bad run. It could be that you had a poor night's sleep, ate something funky, need new shoes, etc. Even in perfect conditions, there may be days when the run never reaches that euphoric high. Don’t sweat it. Stewing in this frustration only serves to demotivate and discourage us further from our goals.

“Understand that you have good days, and you have bad days,” Vonnie says.“I would say, live in both of those.” Stay tuned for upcoming episodes from RUNGRL about common topics and issues faced by everyday runners.

The information on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.

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