Mental Highs, Lows, and Motivation I’ve Found with Running

After you get ready, step outside, and start running you will quickly realize there are no distractions here. There is nothing to hide behind – no social media to look at, no book / tablet to read, no video games to play – just you moving your arms in cadence as you jog along. Your body might be feeling good, but your mind starts to wander – and sometimes it goes negative.

When I first began running – I was so concentrated on learning new paths, not getting lost, checking my pace for intervals, or thinking about my form that I didn’t get into my head too much. However, as it is with most things, I got more used to my routine, my pace, my form, and now I’m starting to hear myself think again.

The Good with the Bad:

There are days when I’m completely meditative. Those days I could run for freaking ever. It’s called flow, and it’s fantastic. (More about that here)

Unfortunately, there are other days when your brain tells you you’re the worst. And what you’re doing is stupid. And you are stupid. See that person there? They think you’re slow. They think it because you know you suck at this. See how hard a time you are having? You know I’m right. You should stop. You know it’s the right call. Feel that small pain? That’s a good enough reason to stop. See, you don’t even have to feel guilty! You’re just being safe, nothing wrong with that. You should stop. You’ve had a tough day. Don’t push it. You should stop.


On my first 4 mile run, I had the Eeyore cloud. I came back almost in tears. But – by virtue of running outside – I HAD to finish my run to get back to the car. I was exhausted physically and mentally. When I got back, I sat down at a nearby bench to collect myself. My brain was yelling at me the entire time – but looking at my watch – I had completed my goal. Those 4 miles were done. Was it a good run? No. My breathing was terrible because I was upset, my pace was everywhere, and I took more walk breaks than more normal intervals – but it was done.

So I had my Rafiki moment, only instead of being hit with a physical stick it was a mental one.


So, I Learn:

I have now a beginning knowledge of what could trigger the negative thoughts when I’m running. There are a few obvious factors at play here with your personal psychology, but sticking with a bigger picture, one thing that became clear for me was that “the long run” was anxiety central. There was always the joke “oh if I do __(fill in the blank)__, then I’ll have to run 5, 10 miles!” like it was an impossibility. It’s not. I’ve done it – and so have a bunch of others. Yet, it’s still there. You hear it all the time, sometimes hiding in different phrasing, trying to convince you hearing it enough times gives it validity. It is taking me some time to unstick that thought from my brain, even if I am now actively cognizant of it. I still get nervous before longer runs, but it used to be way worse. That confidence to contradict what a lot of people joke about is a big deal, and that’s part of the reason I posted when I hit the 5 mile mark. I will post again when I hit 10. I’ve got all my training backing me up, there is no reason why I shouldn’t believe I can. If I can’t run it, I’ll finish by walking. No need to worry about it.

Sometimes, even knowing why doesn’t stop the cloud from starting to form. If that happens, or even if I’m in a good place and I’m bored – I play simple games to activate my brain. These games are easy to read, but hard to complete when you are running…which is the point.

  • One is count up to 5 with each step. Like this: 1,2,3,4,5,     2,2,3,4,5    3,3,3,4,5 with the goal to make it to 5,5,5,5,5 but if you mess up you have to start back at one.
  • Spell out a short motivation mantra. Example: This is easy. Each step would be a letter. You can change up the words easily, and the harder the word is the more you have to concentrate and the farther you go without thinking about it.
  • Visualize your music. I run to Disney soundtracks a lot, and I’ve seen the movies enough that when I hear the words I can visualize them to distract myself.
  • Concentrate on your surroundings and try to let your brain think about nothing. For me, this is how I get into flow. I pick a spot that’s eye level or just above, that’s decently far away. I concentrate on that spot, almost like how you concentrate on something when you are doing something that requires balance, and just keep it in the forefront of my mind – I will get to that spot. Repeat.

Phew! This is a personal, wordy posting – haha! Hopefully, that last set of mind games will help people struggling with quieting their thoughts, or that are just bored on their run. It has helped me 🙂

(Disclaimer – Do know the difference when pain requires attention and when it’s something you can push through. I’m not in anyway saying to ignore your body’s warnings.)

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