Mastering the Mind-Body Equation in Running

The Power of Positivity: Using Your Mind to Succeed and Achieve Your Running Goals

“I’m never going to win, so why bother?”

“I don’t look like a runner.”

“I can’t do this. Running is too hard.”

If any of these negative thoughts sound familiar, you need an attitude adjustment! (I’m not judging; I need one too sometimes!) Let’s start with a disclaimer: You are a runner, you can do this, and yes, running can be tough. But so are you … because you’re a runner!

Self-doubt is normal, especially when you start setting goals and pushing beyond your comfort zone, as is often the case when running faster and farther. While there is value in being realistic about our abilities (overconfidence and unrealistic expectations of our ability can negatively impact performance), letting negative thoughts take hold and flourish will adversely impact overall happiness and athletic performance. Those downer thoughts can also affect your health, and not in a good way.

Thinking positively is a learned trait and takes some work, says Deena Kastor, a three-time Olympian and American-record holder in the marathon and half marathon.

“Our minds can be our biggest cheerleader and greatest source of energy,” says Kastor, who is writing a book about this very topic (Let Your Mind Run, due out April 2018). “Trying to shift that perspective to being our greatest cheerleader is only up to us. It has to come within.”

A simple example is the urge to complain about running a hill or a race or a speed workout before getting to it. If you go into the challenge with a negative mindset, it will feel harder. Shifting one’s mindset to focus on the scenery, breaking the hill into smaller sections or even thinking about how happy you’ll be once the challenge is done makes for a more enjoyable and productive experience.

“Our minds are the catalyst for everything we do,” Kastor says. “Every thought we have sets us up for what comes next.”

Kastor spent her career as an elite runner and benefited greatly from the power of being positive, but her advice is especially important among everyday runners and age groupers. You need to build habits that are rooted in positivity.

Studies have shown that athletes who regularly practice positive self-talk have more self-confidence and reduced pre-event anxiety. Another study, this one from the University of Tehran, concluded that those who use motivational self-talk have faster reaction times in sport-specific tasks.

You can be positive anytime—think about it throughout the day or make it a committed focus. If you are making it more of a focus, Kastor recommends starting when life is good. That way it’s an easier perspective shift and becomes a mental habit, much like brushing your teeth. Once you have challenges in front of you, you’ll be better able to handle them with a positive outlook. For runners, being injured is a good example. It’s easy to look at all you’re missing and the work you have to do. Instead of dwelling on what you lost, be excited about the progress you’ve made and about the growth and challenges ahead of you.

If being positive for the sake of sport doesn’t do it for you, then consider putting a more positive spin on life for your health. Another recent study found that women who were optimistic (sorry guys, this study was women only) had a reduced risk of dying from major causes of death, such as cancer, heart disease and infection.

5 Tips To Mine Positivity

Based on the concept that positivity is a learned trait, here are Deena Kastor’s top five tips for getting the most enjoyment out of running and life.

Just Believe

Belief is such a strong word. Not only do you need to believe you are capable of your goals, you need to believe you are capable of putting in the work and that you are deserving of the results of your hard work.

Set Goals and Benchmarks

As you set goals, create smaller steps and benchmarks along the journey. Accomplishing smaller goals is effective positive reinforcement on the way to bigger goals. Think of them as little rewards. Maybe you want to run a mile without stopping or complete your first 5K. Work on that mentality of recognizing when you make it to each milestone. It’s all the more important to celebrate every step along the way because it feels less defeating if you somehow fall short of your main goal. The process itself is still a positive.

Make It Rewarding

You run and train because you like to and it makes you feel good. It isn’t punishment and it isn’t suffering. Look at it as opportunity instead of obligation. You should enjoy being able to work toward a meaningful goal.

Keep a Training Log

In addition to recording workouts, make a note about something good from every workout. If the run was especially challenging, comment on flowers you saw along the way, how well your shoes fit or what a nice day it was. The goal is to make the process rewarding every day. When you’re working hard and you’re tired or even sore, it can be easy to let yourself get in the cycle of every day being a complaint-filled slog. Sometimes when we’re growing we don’t pause to realize that what we’re doing is super extraordinary. You’re out there working hard and trying to get the best out of yourself, and a training log proves it.

Show Up Mentally and Physically

It’s important to keep things in perspective, enjoy the process and appreciate how far you’ve come. If we can show up any given day with a 100 percent positive mindset, we’ll get 100 percent out what we can give physically. Our mindset is the catalyst to reaching our potential.

Allison Pattillo

Motiv Running senior editor Allison Pattillo writes about running, health, nutrition, gear and travel from her home in Colorado. When it comes to gear, she’s a fan of tall running socks, short running skirts and wearing her hat backwards. Even with a BQ and a few podium finishes (all triathlons should be run, bike, canoe!), Allison finds more inspiration from running in beautiful places and exploring on the run instead of the numbers on a stopwatch. She looks forward to the day when she finds her ultimate running dog, which, at this point, may be more bulldog than border collie.