Taming the Dragon: Mental Strategies for Runners

Learning to accept healthy discomfort and think more flexibly can give you a real edge in your training.

Mindful Running

It’s not easy pushing yourself to achieve peak performance. It requires a certain level of mental toughness and discipline because you know that long run or tough workout will cause you a certain level of discomfort. But, learning to accept healthy discomfort and think more flexibly can give you a real edge in your training.

Healthy Discomfort

Your brain is wired to avoid discomfort as a survival instinct. If you’ve ever backed off a workout when you knew you had more to give, or found a convenient reason to miss your long run, then you’ve experienced a losing battle with healthy discomfort.

Achieving peak performance has more to do with your definition of discomfort than fleeting qualities like willpower. Mental flexibility can be a runner’s secret weapon for aligning behaviours with training values and goals.

Negative Thoughts are Like a Fire Breathing Dragon

Consider your thoughts as they relate to training discomfort. Some examples could include ‘I would rather deep clean my bathroom than run more mileage in the cold weather,’ or ‘I can’t push this pace, I’m done.’

Those thoughts are like a fire-breathing dragon standing directly in your path. Your brain tells you danger lies ahead and you must prepare for a painful fight or run away. Neither option is very appealing.

A Third, Healthy Option

What most of us do not consider is that there is a third option: we do not need to defeat the dragon or escape it, but we can co-exist with it in the same way we can co-exist with healthy discomfort.

It’s hard to push yourself to get to the gym, complete a tough workout or go for a difficult training run which will be physically demanding. This is when you need to reframe your thoughts and accept the dragon to better serve your purpose.

Even though your brain might be accustomed to avoiding discomfort, there is an opportunity to grow and learn from it. Consider adding mental flexibility to your training toolkit and you may find yourself befriending the dragon.