Do you have a love/hate relationship with running? I sure do. It’s the one workout that I sometimes dread. It takes me through such highs and lows. I can go from the fear of getting started to exhilaration and feeling that runner’s high, in the space of half an hour. Why such swings; because I have to be inside my head.

I have to be with my thoughts, and sometimes readers, they are not pretty. Why are they so self-defeating? Why do I focus on all of the challenges, the aches and pains, the labored breathing, how easy it is to stop short. But what can be done about these thoughts that can pop up so early in the midst of the run? So yesterday I conducted an experiment and this is how it all went down.

On my run, I decided to purposefully focus on nothing but my thinking. That meant no podcasts, no music, no heart rate monitors allowed or even fitness apps. Oh the horror! I just wanted to purposefully tune in and see what was going on up there in that brain of mine.

Our brain will have thoughts whether we manage them or not, I was curious to see what mine came up with. Here is part of the list, and right away, it started off tragic. Why am I doing this? This sucks? Why am I so slow? When will this be done? 1 mile in, not even a ¼ of the way done, and ugh.

How do people run marathons? I should just stop. I’ve done enough. What’s the dog doing? Why’s he running at me? There better be an invisible fence. Phew!

Then for a period there were no thoughts, just running, almost like a meditation of some sorts. And no, I wasn’t draining gallons of blood after that dog attack (Just kidding. Its yard had an invisible fence).

The good news is, somewhere near mile two, I suddenly started feeling good, alive, and present. My self-defeating thoughts waned and I was flooded by thoughts other instructors had given me over the years. I heard my favorite indoor cycling instructor say “One day you won’t be able to do this”, this humbled me, I started thinking about all the people who wish they could run, but couldn’t.

Maybe they were sick, or physically challenged in some way. I started running for them, gratitude was rushing in. I heard my old trainer say “the mind will fail before the body does”, this had me running faster. Some people run Iron Man’s, I can run 4 miles. Then lastly I heard my master coach say “You can do hard things” and I felt confident.

I thought about all the races I had ran over the years and all the great people I met along the way. It usually started in dread or anxiety, and ended with feelings of accomplishment and pride. So what can I gather from this experiment? Running, like most sports is a mental game.

Our thoughts generate our emotions and our emotions drive our actions, so it makes perfect sense. First it helps you appreciate that these self-defeating thoughts come to the party and gets you prepared for the same as well. They usually show up early, before you even put out the food, #annoying. Plan for them to come to the party, but know that they won’t stay long.

They usually take off once the party starts getting good, when the music gets going and your friends show up. Let them out the back door and carry on. The party can go well beyond the initial strain. Till next time sweaty runners, keep going!

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