While running can be quite intense physically, the mental demands of the activity can be just as challenging at times. Most long-time runners have a bank of knowledge to draw from as they face different challenges, but newer runners are more likely to be overwhelmed and make common mindset mistakes when dealing with running-related roadblocks.
By tackling three common psychological mistakes early in your running career, you’re more likely to see progress and success in your efforts.
MISTAKE #1: RUSHING YOUR GOALS
No matter when in life you take up running, it’s normal to want to see results quickly. That’s human nature. If you stick with running consistently through the first couple of months, you’re likely to see rapid improvement in some aspects of your performance. You can run longer and walk less. You can cover more miles, more quickly.
As you improve, it’s tempting to rush into covering new, longer distances. Unfortunately, progress in running is rarely linear. You’ll improve, then plateau. Improve again, then plateau again. During those phases where you feel like your wheels are spinning, it’s hard to recognize the work you’re putting in is accomplishing anything. But it is!
SOLUTION: GOAL-SETTING WITH A TIME FRAME
Significant improvement in your running takes patience and consistency. Rushing your goals can lead to failure, injury and heartbreak. When you set goals, you want to think both short-term and long-term. Short-term, accessible goals act as stepping stones and allow you to see progress along the way to your bigger goals.
If you just started running a few weeks ago, don’t expect to finish a marathon in 12–16 weeks. Instead, take the time to establish good habits and build your running foundation. If you do want to run a marathon, it may be more than a year until you can do it right and have a good experience. Put in the effort day after day, even if you aren’t seeing immediate results, and know you’ll get there.
MISTAKE #2: RELYING ON
WILLPOWER AND MOTIVATION
WILLPOWER AND MOTIVATION
As an enthusiastic new runner, you may feel as though you have endless motivation. This may be especially true if you start running in the fall or spring when the weather is comfortable and inviting. Eventually, cold rain or a hot, humid day comes, or maybe you’re just tired and overwhelmed by work and family commitments. Suddenly, your motivation has vanished.
Runners with years of consistent training know you can’t rely on motivation alone. Even willpower is a finite resource that gets drained when you have too many other things going on in your life. Once you lose motivation and miss a day or two, it’s too easy for that to snowball into weeks or months away from running.
SOLUTION: RELY ON STRATEGIES AND DISCIPLINE OVER WILLPOWER
It’s easy to find a variety of “hacks” for accomplishing anything these days, but progress comes with continued effort, not by taking shortcuts. There are certainly things you can do to get out the door — laying out your clothes the night before, meeting a friend, setting up a reward system for accomplishments — but, ultimately, your goals and rewards have to be intrinsic.
We make time for what’s important in our lives. If running is important to you, carve out the time every day. Put it on your schedule and make it non-negotiable. Don’t let there be a choice — think of it more along the lines of showering or brushing your teeth. It’s part of your day!
But also know that building a new habit takes time — it can take a month or more to make a permanent lifestyle change, so commit to sticking with it even when it’s hard.
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MISTAKE #3: COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
If you run in a group, attend a race or use social media, it’s hard not to compare yourself with other runners. There will always be someone out there faster (and slower) than you. Running is not about comparing your times to others — it’s about pushing yourself to your best effort and saying ‘no’ to the voice in your head that tells you to quit.
While any runner — new or seasoned — can fall into the trap of comparison, new runners are more susceptible because they have less experience and mileage under their belts. Distances more than 5 miles may be uncharted territory, and holding a pace comparable to a long-time runner may feel like an impossibility.
SOLUTION: ONLY COMPETE WITH YOURSELF
Focus on your goals and no one else’s. Remember every runner has their own experience and progresses differently. Look at how you are improving not only in terms of pacing and distance, but also how you feel when you are out there. A coach or personalized training plan can help you follow a path unique to your needs.
As a new runner, your priorities should be to establish a consistent habit and stay healthy, physically and mentally. While a solid training plan is important, having the right mindset helps you through the ups and downs of building your training. Focus on strategies that allow you to follow your own best path — no one else’s — and you’ll be on your way to a happy, healthy relationship with running.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.