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Believe it or not, running can become an addiction, which may be hard to fathom since running can feel like torture, for some. However, this has a lot to do with our mental barrier, which once broken down can change our relationship with running.
There are a few walls we come across when we run, the first is, I haven’t run before and this isn’t fun, so I I’m going to stop. Another being, I’ve been going for a while and it’s getting uncomfortable and then there’s the I have no more fuel left, I have to dig deep.
I have run 40 marathons in my time and trust me, I have experienced all those pains. I had the pleasure of training non-runners to run the New York Marathon so I have also been hurled all sorts of excuses as to why people want to stop running. So here’s how I power through it.
1. Start Slow
When I say start slow, I mean it. I’m talking a 10 minute run. There are a few things you’ll experience when your body has been in a dormant running spell. You may feel itchy, which is the dilation of the blood vessels in response to sweat (which goes away when you run more often), your feet may hurt or you may feel you physically cannot. Therefore, I like to start slow, to not deter anyone. It’s hard to get back on the horse if you’ve started out on a 5km run, because chances are you’ll be sore for a few days after.
Gradually increase the mileage, for instance, for the first two weeks play around with running 1-3km until you’re no longer sore the following day and can feel you can push the distance a little further each session.
Your pace should also start slow, it doesn’t matter if you resemble a shuffle and walkers seemed to be overtaking you, it’s all about small steps. Set a goal, such as various running tracks you know the distance of, and make a plan to build up to that level.
2. Run with a Distraction when Training
You will be surprised at how far you can run when your mind is distracted by the distance as it concentrates on a conversation, podcast, phone-call or uplifting music. Studies have shown that when marathon runners hit the wall this is typically a sign that the body has exhausted its glucose storage and starts a process of gluconeogenesis, such as burning fat for fuel. This is a slower process and therefore the brain fatigues because it is not receiving the glucose it wants so badly and thus, the negativity can set in. Athletes have been shown to overcome this by distraction methods.
3. Race Day Awareness
Research has shown that when we try to distract our body from the task at hand we can become unhinged from the event and therefore lose track of our pace and needs of the body. However, if we pay attention to our environment, such as crowds or people the onset of a mental block is delayed, yet there is a risk of trying to keep up with those around us. Therefore, try spend more mental effort on your surroundings but keep an eye on kilometres and check in with your body every few kilometres and make a mental note to check out.
Physiologically, our body utilises copious amounts of glucose when we run, especially endurance running. Therefore I like to eat a carbohydrate rich meal the night before a run and plenty of high GI carbs the morning of. Research has also showed that women cope better with the mental barrier because physiologically, the female body is able to convert alternative fuel sources into energy more effectively. My final tip is to drink a black coffee a few hours before the race, to make sure the train leaves the tunnel, so to speak. There’s nothing worse than needing to ‘go’ during the race and breaking your rhythm and concentration.
By Ben Lucas, Director of Flow Athletic and personal trainer