“Self-Talk is the most important conversation of your life.”
― Jesus Apolinaris
Running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.
The quality of your thoughts determines whether you enjoy your training sessions and how you will respond when you hit a rough patch during a run.
Negative self-talk undermines your ability to perform your best. On the other hand, positive self-talk can enhance performance by improving concentration, boosting confidence, and ensuring you follow good running habits.
If you want to harness the power of positive self-talk, use the following 3 strategies.
They will help you replace the negative voice in your head with one that will bring you closer to your running goals.
1. Get to know the voice in your head
The first step to harnessing the power of positive self-talk is getting to know the voice in your head. We all talk to ourselves, yet often we are unaware of the many thoughts that travel through our brain every day.
Once you become aware of your habitual thinking, you can take steps to change it.
You can use various techniques to become more conscious of your thoughts.
Meditation is probably the most prominent. Many athletes use it to calm their minds and center themselves in the present moment.
You can do a quick 5-10 minute meditation before the start of your race if you are feeling extremely anxious and want to calm down. I like to meditate in the evening before going to bed. I have found that it helps me sleep through the night and wake up more relaxed.
Another technique that I personally use every day is journaling.
But I don’t write about the day’s events. Instead, I journal about my feelings and thoughts. Writing is a powerful way to get to know your inner world and to reframe your thinking and beliefs.
For example, when I started to build a social life, I used a journal to release high anxiety levels and talk myself into going out.
If the anticipation of a big race or workout makes me tense, I turn to my journal and write out how I feel. Then I give myself a pep talk on paper before heading out to get the run started.
Finally, you should run through nature without listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
At least once in a while.
If you want to improve as a runner, you must get to know the thoughts that habitually run through your mind when you’re faced with problems during a run.
When you are exhausted and still have 15 km to go when it’s dark and cold. When all you want to do is stop. Listen to your self-talk instead of tuning into a podcast or distracting yourself with music. Then try to change it.
For example, when you find yourself in front of a big hill and you’re already tired, you might think, “oh gosh, how am I supposed to tackle that one now? I can’t possibly get up there. I am already exhausted. I should just turn around and call it a day.”
When you are present and aware of these thoughts and of the fact that you can change them, you can simply say to yourself, “These thoughts are non-sense. Of course, I can do it. Getting up that hill will only make me stronger. And I can at least try.”
2. Harness the power of mantras
Much of what you believe about yourself and your abilities as a runner has been programmed into your subconscious mind.
And where does this program come from? From all the voices you heard throughout your life.
Parents and teachers praised you for your athletic abilities or made you aware of your apparent lack of them. Magazine covers showed you how you’re supposed to look if you want to call yourself a runner. And that stranger, who commented how awkward you looked when you were running through busy city streets.
The bad news is that your subconscious takes everything as fact.
The good news is that this is the exact reason why you can reprogram your subconscious to hold powerful beliefs about your running endeavors.
And one of the best ways to reprogram your belief system is to use mantras.
What is a mantra?
It is simply a word or a short phrase you keep repeating to yourself to the beat of your footstep or breathing.
The right mantra can help you keep focused, push through painful moments and finish your race strong.
What mantra is best?
That depends entirely on you. You must create a mantra that resonates with you, and you can have several mantras – one for each specific situation.
For example, I hate running in rain and wind and often debate if I should go for a run in this weather. Of course, running is an outdoor sport, so I have to make peace with training in unfavorable weather.
And how do I do this? By using mantras to get over my disdain. I tell myself, “relax; this will strengthen you” when facing rain and wind.
During my 50K race in Bernau, I used “this is easy, this is fun” when I started to tense up, and my joints ached from the pavement pounding. I often use mantras to relax on my easy runs to ensure I don’t run too fast.
Use these as inspiration for developing your own mantras. You can also search for inspiring quotes or mantras from other athletes. Play around until you have found something that resonates with you.
3. Use a running alter ego
I am a big fan of creating alter egos for various aspects of our lives. What is an alter ego? Basically, it is a character you dream up that you wish to embody when engaged in a specific activity.
Your secret superhero personality.
Think back to when you were a kid. When you played, you slipped into other roles – a superhero, a mom, a dad, or even pretending to be an animal.
You can do the same now that you are an adult. In fact, you should. Create a character that is your running alter ego – a role you slip into when you put on your running shoes.
I have written in more detail about how to do this here, so if you want a more detailed introduction to creating and using a running alter ego, go check out this article.
For now, it is enough to grab a pen and a sheet of paper or open your favorite word processing software and get busy. Imagine yourself as the perfect runner. How would you behave? What character traits would you embody? Which habits would follow and which routine adhere to?
Write it out. Let your imagination run wild.
Now comes the critical part.
Based on your description of character traits, habits, and routines, think about how this ideal running-self would talk to themselves. Would they have to talk themselves into a run, or would they celebrate each training run as a chance to become better?
How would they encourage themselves during rough patches on the run? Would they practice self-compassion, or is your character more of a drill sergeant?
There are no right or wrong answers here. Remember, you are creating this character. The choice is yours.
Once you have created that running superhero, use it!
Try to get into the habit of acting as if you were that running superhero character during each training run. It might seem strange at first, but trust me, it works.
The more you play that role, the more you will embody the traits during your runs. The more you use the self-talk strategies of your running alter ego, the easier it will be to draw upon them during future training sessions and races.
Use these techniques and transform your running
Practicing positive self-talk is a skill that you can develop. Just like you can train your muscles and heart, you can train your mind to become a better runner.
The first step is to become aware of your thoughts and then redirect and change them.
Practice positive self-talk consciously, and soon it will become a habit, just like negative self-talk can become a habit.