Every runner experiences bad runs. Stomach cramps, runner’s trots, muscle cramps, tired legs, allergies, exercise-induced asthma, and lack of motivation are only some of the causes that can make us what to stop midway through a run and call it quits.
Sometimes I’m pretty sure my stomach hates me (and, from reading other blogs, it seems like many other runners experience this as well). The temptation arises to let those awful runs full of stomach cramps ruin the day, make me hate running, or discourage me from my goals. Likewise, it’s tempting to let a tough run cause despair on our training, to quit because a run doesn’t feel good, to lament and whine because we give so much to running and sometimes it doesn’t seem to give back.
I’ve seen these tendencies in myself: the upset after a bad run, the discouragement after a missed goal, the dark night of marathon training. But that’s not a healthy place to dwell, nor is it conducive to achieving goals. Rather, I wish to expel these tendencies, to shift my mindset towards one of gratitude, even when running literally or figuratively goes to sh*t.
Gratitude, for me, has become key to endurance running, and I invite you to adopt an attitude of gratitude and see how gratitude can improve your running.
Because, even with stomach cramps, even with calf cramps, even when I’m tired both mentally and physically, I still have the gift of running. I have two legs that work in coordination to swiftly move me forward. I’m running for sport, for recreation, for joy, not for fear of my life.
I can’t dispel the images of Syrian refugees from my mind’s eye. I won’t share them here, because the depiction of others’ suffering in media is a sensitive and complicated issue (if you haven’t, you really should read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others), but I’m sure you’ve seen them.
The other day, when my calf cramped, my stomach hurt, and my mind and body both felt tired, I wanted to quit halfway through an easy 8 mile run. I was running a loop close to home, so quitting would have been rather easy. But those images flashed through my mind. Shut up, I told myself. You’re experiencing a little discomfort while doing something you love. Don’t complain. Be grateful and endure.
Since then, with each run where the urge emerges to quit for some reason or another (marathon training fatigue, most of the time), I hold onto a thought of gratitude. I get to run. No one is forcing me to do this; I do it on my own accord. I have new shoes on my feet, specially designed running clothes on my back, safe neighborhoods and trails for running, and plenty of food with which to nourish my body afterwards. It floods me with gratitude to ponder these things, and that gratitude carries my legs for many miles more.
Endurance is most certainly physiological, but I also believe it’s highly mental. I’m not alone nor unjustified in that thought; it’s one of the dominant theses in Dr. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running. Your brain often succumbs to fatigue much earlier than your muscles do. In endurance sports, you need a deep and meaningful reason as to why you want to finish the race. Simply because all of your friends are doing it or you want to brag about it on social media is not sufficient to overcome those moments when your mind begins to tell you to quit, to slow down, to go gentle into those final miles.
Gratitude can provide those deeper reasons. A gratefulness for health, for stress relief, for accomplishment, for supportive spouses, family, and friends, and for ability all can keep us going in those tough miles. When your mind suggests you should quit because your muscles are tired, remind yourself that you are grateful you get to run. Thus, gratitude will suppress the mentality that often hinders distance running and allow you to keep enduring and moving forward strong.
In terms of sports psychology, gratitude can be key to overriding negative self-talk and emphasizing positive emotions during a race. As stated in this article from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley in California, gratitude augments positive emotions. Gratitude makes us appreciate something, such as running, and this appreciation bestows value upon it. You notice the joy of running more when you focus on your gratitude for it.
Gratitude also inhibits negative self-talk and emotions during a race. Ever get passed by a faster runner and begin to mentally berate yourself for not being that fast? Envy and gratitude are two opposing emotions. You cannot as easily be envious and fall into the comparison trap when you practice gratitude. If you focus on being grateful for the very fact that you can run a marathon, when other people’s physical, mental, or socioeconomic limits prevent them from doing so, you’re less likely to berate yourself for not being as “fast” or “good” as other runners.
One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a priest at my graduate school. He recommended listing five things each day that I was grateful for, no matter how trivial. This is an effective way to practice gratitude while running. Whenever discomfort sets in or you don’t even have the motivation to get out the door, list five things about running that you are grateful for, even if it’s just how wonderful a hot shower feels after a run or that you like your new running shoes.
Questions of the Day:
What are some things you’re grateful for right now, both in running and beyond?
What mental tricks do you use to override the urge to quit and negative self-talk during a run?