As mileage piles high, calories burn off and hydration disappears, it’s tough to keep mental toughness–really tough some days. So what can you do? Here is a sprinkling of advice I’ve received from professional endurance athletes over the years and what I’ve found worked for me:
If you miss a workout, don’t double up another day. If you are following a specific training program and cannot make a scheduled workout, then scrap the workout. If you try to do more the next day, you’ll throw off the training. Programs are designed to build and to relax the body in a very specific fashion. Mixing it up will throw off that delicate training program. Professional triathlete Melanie McQuaid follows this mantra. If she misses a workout, it’s gone forever.
Just stop. When I have a 15-mile run scheduled and my body takes me to mile 12 and then hits a wall, I simply stop going. I know hard-core runners will power through, but why? Unless you are in a race and must make the finish line, not making my mileage every time is okay. I’ll live to another day. But going those last three miles may be the end of me. It’s not worth it and I know I’m doing more damage than good. It destroys me physically and mentally. I become mean when I hit a wall and no one wants to be around that–so to stay mental strong, I know and respect my limits.
Walk. So much focus is on running. Why should you not walk? According to professional runner and Olympic hopeful Tere Derbez-Zacher, you should just try running for 10 minutes and then walking for 5 minutes. If you try to do too much when your body isn’t feeling it, walking is perfectly acceptable.
Cross train. Any runner knows running causes injuries and yet, we still keep doing it because it’s an addictive sport. Sometimes it’s okay to leave the track for a day and join a group aerobics class or even just meditate. You’ll still burn calories and taking a short break will make your running even stronger. It’s possible to come back faster and better–both mentally and physically.
Stay Hydrated. On a rafting the Grand Canyon and the guide said three important and profound words to me, “hydration is happiness.” Sometimes mental issues stem simply from being not properly hydrated. Wellness doctor Yoni Whitten tells clients to drink two glasses of water when they wake up. This ensures you start hydrating properly immediately and hopefully that will cause you to begin your day with good habits.
Accept my lot in life. I’m not a professional athlete, not even in the same stratosphere. Marathons don’t come easy for me, even running in general doesn’t. While I want to better my time and push through that side stitch for a PR, I know I’m not going to cross the finish line first and should just be grateful I crossed it at all. That’s how I stay mentally strong–I try to just be happy and grateful I’m out there doing it.