Get your enjoyment back and see your performance improve

Some people say running is all in the head and they are for the most part correct. We all have physical limitations but they are not usually as restrictive as we think they are. The mind controls the body and has a habit of telling us what we can and can’t do.

But sometimes it doesn’t always know what we can achieve because it uses ‘sound reasoning’ based on previous experience. Worse still, it can make us doubt what deep down we know we are capable of. At these times you have to fight back against the voice in your head.

We can probably all recognise the times when the mind has a tendency to play it safe in terms of time or distance. Have you ever said to yourself “I’ll just take it easy today and try and pick it up halfway through” or “I was going to do 7 miles today but I’ll just do 5”?

Don’t get me wrong – there are times when you have to be sensible for instance if you have an injury or are genuinely unwell. But most of the time there is no rational reason to deviate from what we were going to do and it nearly always leads to regret and reducing confidence.

The effects we probably don’t notice resulting from low confidence is in our running form. If you think about a time you were running full of confidence, everything feels easy, it is more like a gliding motion. It feels like you can carry on forever; you’re in the zone.

Contrast that with when things aren’t going well. The head drops so you are hunched over, the legs feel heavy most likely from more excessive heel striking, your cadence drops enough to adversely affect your time and you keep looking at your watch every 200 yards. But unless you are injured or have not fuelled correctly, it’s only not going well because your head is telling you so.

You have to work to actively combat the negativity that can wreck running.

Firstly, forget about time for a week or so and try and get some enjoyment back into your running. Working on your form will help make running feel easier. Imagine you are walking into a room of people you don’t know. You may not be confident but they won’t know if you keep upright have smooth motion and look happy! This is how you should look when running. And don’t nervously check your watch.

Next you can work on speed. This will be made easier by two things; foot form and cadence. When low on confidence it is more likely that you are heel striking (you land predominantly on your heel). This is not easy to change and I don’t recommend a wholesale change overnight as it will take its toll on your calves, however, being aware of this and shifting more onto the balls of your feet, even for a short period of your run will instantly make you a little faster for the same effort. This is because you spend less time in contact with the ground. Increasing or even maintaining your cadence (how many steps you take per minute) will also have a big effect on time.

Once you’ve got some enjoyment back, set realistic goals and train properly with a plan to achieve them. But how do I know what is realistic? It’s a fair question. If you are returning from injury then you need to be cautious and take advice from the medical experts. Try not to think in terms of PBs (personal bests) but of SBs (season bests). I.e. don’t compare this year’s performances to last year’s when you were fully fit just try to improve on times from your injury.

If you are not injured but are struggling with confidence it may also be because you are comparing yourself now to you in previous years or against other people we know that are improving. Comparing ourselves to other people is not useful (unless you are an elite).

Just because our times are similar to someone else’s it doesn’t mean that we are at the same point in our running careers. People who are just starting out will improve much more rapidly and that can be demoralising for anyone they pass. You can’t affect what others do only what you do.

Unfortunately, as we get older we tend to overthink things more but we need to get back to the feeling that kids have when they run. They’re just trying to do the best they can at that point in time. So every once in a while go and do a short run with the aim of just going for it. Leave the preconceptions behind and try and clear your mind. Also leave the watch behind if it helps.

Really going for a 5k with confidence will show where you are at this point in time. Don’t be disheartened if the time is not where you think it should be – this is the base from where you will improve.

Running is all in the mind and so are all of the doubts. Control the doubting mind and you’ll remember why you started running.