Mindgames that Keep Me Running When I Feel Like Stopping

This article is about the techniques (mindgames) I use with myself to stop the Emotional Mind (e-mind) from whining too loudly and affecting the Logical Mind (L-mind) enough that the L-mind actually makes the body stop running.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail in Honolulu,<br /> Hawaii.Sometimes when I’m running I get this urge to stop running and start walking.

There’s no logical reason for it. The body is ready. The mind is just turning lame for some reason. Usually I can pinpoint one of two reasons the mind is giving me these signals to stop and walk or quit altogether.

I know there’s no fact behind the mind’s protests… I run just about exactly the same amount everyday. I vary by only a half mile or so sometimes. The e-mind is lazy sometimes and needs to be controlled. Athletes at the top of their game must face this all the time. I can’t figure out if amateurs like me face it more or less than the top athletes in the world. Any ideas? Maybe only when they’re really pushing… I’m not sure… anyone want to venture a guess in the comment section?




Here are the two ways I see the e-mind trying to influence the run and turn it into a “no-run”. Compare yourself to see if you have one of these two experiences or if yours is different. If you have a different experience please leave a comment about it – and let me know. I’m very interested in mindgames that go on in my own head – and everyone’s head as they’re running.

Two scenarios in which the e-mind sometimes wants to stop the run:

1st Way:
This one happens when I’ve been running about 15 – 25 minutes or so… I’m not having a “flow” experience but the run isn’t that bad. I’m probably thinking a lot, or paying too much attention to the body and every feeling in my feet, toes, thighs, shoulders, arms, breathing, state of tension, etc. I’m kind of overworking my brain to pay attention to everything – like the biofeedback computer (my brain) is supposed to do. Problem is – the brain isn’t ready for it for some reason. Maybe the stress of the day is also churning heavy thoughts around and throwing the brain off it’s game.

This one usually first manifests by my realizing that my breathing is not perfect. Other things are then noticed…my body is not that limber – I’m a bit stiff… a little pain in my toe… it’s hot… The emotional mind starts to create this idea that maybe it can convince the logical mind to call a halt to the run and we’ll do some walking for a while. Now, sometimes this is OK, but not in the first couple of miles for me – it’s not a good reason to walk and relax some. I need to be strong and do something before the whiny e-Mind (emotional mind) wins and makes the L-mind (logical mind) stop and walk for a bit.

2nd Way:
This one happens when I get this overwhelming feeling of having NO energy… It may exist upon starting the run or it may start to come over me as the run progresses. This one is a real problem because it’s the one that the e-mind can actually WIN with and make me walk sometimes.

When the logical mind realizes the e-mind is whining about having a very low energy threshold during the run and not wanting to continue it starts to assess…

Did the body drink enough water in the past 24 hours? How many coffees?

Did the body eat anything with sugar or fat in the last few days?

Typically the answer is no to this one – so the L-mind must be careful to realize that. I’m not a sugar or fat eater and I need to consciously find some and eat it – usually in the form of ice-cream to get some occasionally.

Did the body eat enough carbs in the last 24 hours or so? What about breakfast? Lunch?

Did you eat something before the run that might have taken the blood into the stomach away from the running muscles?

The L-mind evaluates because it’s the judger. It needs to make a ruling. Sometimes the L-mind just makes a ruling and makes the run continue regardless of the whining e-mind and how loud it gets. Other times the L-mind agrees – something is really weird, should stop and walk the rest of the way, fix it for next run.

So, usually the L-mind can get through the whining. Occasionally it cannot. I’d say the L-mind prevails about 80% of the time lately.

I’m saying that 80% of the time the L-mind makes a ruling to continue the run and everything goes OK. The L-mind feels stronger for having made the body and e-mind do something it didn’t want to do – and the runs for me are short enough that there’s not that much suffering really. I don’t force speed on days I don’t feel right. So the e-mind and body endure some discomfort.

But here’s the thing…

I only stop and walk during a run about 3% of the time. 97% of the time I run. How does that add up you’re wondering?

Here’s what happens… the mindgames kick-in on auto-pilot sometimes so the L-mind doesn’t need to make a ruling…

Huh? Yeah, exactly. I’ve never written about this before but as I ran today and went through a run that I felt weak on and had breathing that wasn’t smooth or easy and then the mindgames auto-kicked in. It was really cool to realize what had been happening many times in the past.




The auto-mindgames!

Auto-Mindgame Kicks in…
So this happens when I’m running and feeling like I’m scoring about a “2” out of a “10” run. The e-mind is whining – something about the run sucking so hard that light is bending toward us. I’m ignoring it for a while but then the L-mind kicks in and starts some logical assessments. It turns out that things look good. Water intake, calories, fat, sugar, sleep, are all good, so I should be operating at peak. This mindgame kicked in where I started to count my breaths out and in which I hadn’t done for the previous 20 minutes of running. The mindgame then changed to counting paces. I just started counting every pace that I took. Then it switched to every other step and counting by 2’s which was less stressful. The fingers on the left hand were keeping track of the hundreds and the mind was keeping track of the number of times the left hand got to 500.

Turns out the mind just did this ON ITS OWN. I never consciously said, hey, let’s count how many steps around the park. I found out though as I got to 1,000 steps the L-mind (logical mind) realized – wow, you just counted 1,000 steps. But the greater realization was that there was no suffering of any sort during the run as I counted. The focus on the numbers was so great and required so much constant focus that the e-mind (emotional mind) couldn’t think about anything to whine about! So – the body just ran. The breathing evened out and the run was going well at that point of realization.

Well the mind kept focused and counting. 2,657 steps around the park on the track I usually take when i do a big loop.

The run went from being a 2/10 to a 8/10 JUST BECAUSE of this game my mind started playing!

I felt great, my breathing was good and my pace had picked up a lot… my stride got longer and the body was much more loose than it was for the first 20 minutes. I continued running and when I finished I was thinking – “Wow, the mindgame just stepped in and made everything go smoothly!” How cool is that?

Then as I was walking around the parking lot of the park and trying to get rid of the lactic acid a little bit… I realized – I have many little mindgames that kick in and take the focus of the mind somewhere else and “save” the run. The run goes from a low rating, maybe a “2” out of “10” up to a 6/10 or higher. These mindgames are great tools and I’ll try to explain some of the other ones below…

Other Mindgames:

Sometimes these come automatically and others I initiate…

Squinting eyes. I squint my eyes so that they’re nearly closed. Vision gets very dark and I feel like if I don’t see the elements that are in front of me – the concrete usually, then the run becomes less like a run. This works especially well with dark glasses on. When I first did this it was late at night, as I used to run around midnight. I noticed that – it’s much less mental stress to be running when I can’t see the road and understand that I’m moving my (then) 180 lb body over it. It was a feeling as if I was almost “sleep running.” I create no expectations and just run – as slow as or as fast as the body goes. No matter. No worries. This one is really almost like sleeping – I just let myself feel as relaxed as possible, like I’m in my bed… and the run goes much more smoothly that it was before I initiated this mindgame.

Passing imaginary competitors. First I might imagine that I see my mom in front of me. My mom doesn’t run. She could a little bit, but she doesn’t. I imagine that my run is so bad that even she is in front of me. I pass her and then I see my uncle with a knob on his neck that smokes a lot. He’s further ahead. I pass him. Then I see some enemies from the past – high school usually as I can’t find anyone to hate much in the last 20 years. I pass them all. I start to feel a little better. Then comes another level in the next group… peers at school that I wanted to get better grades than in undergrad and in graduate school. I pass them. I pass co-workers. I see far ahead, some superstars in the blogging world. I catch and pass them. I see superstars in sci-fi action movies…. Tony Robbins and Darren Rowse, even Steve Pavlina come into view as the last ones I need to pass… Sometimes I pass them, but usually I save them for another day. I keep them out ahead of me to motivate me to keep going and chasing them.

Not thinking. I just kind of blank the mind of thought and run “in the moment” or “in the present”. I wrote about this before, in another article. Here is an article where I talk about “flow” and creating flow – during a run that otherwise wouldn’t have it. Flow is that state where everything is effortless and there is a fluidity of motion, a natural economy of motion that is efficient, smooth, powerful, effortless, and without suffering…

Read about Flow in Running here > The part about “Pseudo Flow” is where I talk about blanking the mind but, the whole article is probably a bit different from things you’ve read in the past.

Focus on breathing. Sometimes this one works, and sometimes not. The other mindgames all seem to work consistently with me. For this one I just focus on the number of strides I’m taking as I run compared with the breaths I’m taking. If I’m relaxed and running very easily I’m usually at 4 strides as I breathe in for 1 breath, and 4 strides for each out-breath. I call this 4/4 breathing. If I’m going fast I’m at a 2/2 breathing rate. I find that if I concentrate on watching my feet hit in front of me as I’m aware of the in-breath and then again for the out-breath I notice much less any discomfort or whining from the e-mind about the body not feeling quite energized or ready enough to continue running.

Breathing in extra hard. I notice that if i start to inhale extra hard as I’m running – and expanding the lungs – it seems to have an effect after about 6-10 breaths. The extra oxygen makes me feel better and it’s a noticeable change. I try it every few minutes if it seems to work the first time. I’m usually in a 2/2 breathing pattern if I try this as it’s easy to forcefully inhale when breathing hard and fast. Belly Breathing is also an awesome technique that I think brings 10% improvement immediately, to any run you’re not using it. Read about it by clicking that link.

How much you’re suffering can be controlled by the eyes. Yeah, believe it or not! I noticed today that as I wasn’t feeling that great during the run my eyes were focused very close to my feet. I was looking almost at my feet. Then, when I looked up further ahead to where my usual gaze is while running and feeling good – about 5- 6 paces in front of me, my mood changed. I felt better. I felt less pain because the focus of the eyes was out away from the body. Strange huh? Try it yourself. Then I tried to focus far off in the distance – 50 yards or as far as I could see down the path. You know what? I didn’t even feel the body at all. It was like I was floating through the air. I couldn’t feel my feet hit the pavement.

Try to be conscious of where your eyes are looking as you run – and you can control how much attention your mind pays to the suffering based on where your eyes are looking!

Hanauma Bay Ridge, Oahu, Hawaii.Any of these mindgames can be initiated by you consciously. But, it’s really cool to realize that your brain did it on it’s own to get rid of the whining emotional mind and to get rid of having to experience suffering a run that isn’t going as smoothly as they usually do.

Sometimes I realize that it happened 20 minutes after it was going on! That’s a cool moment when I say to myself, “Hey, the mind was up to something – it took over subconsciously!”

Best of Life!

Vern
Find me at Twitter HERE >

Does your mind play any mindgames to get over the pain of running on days when you don’t feel quite up to it?

What are they?

Do they ever happen on their own or do you initiate them consciously every time?

Other running articles I’ve written:

27 Reasons I love to go Running!”>27 Reasons I love to go Running!

Flow, Pseudo Flow, and Mind-Tweaking During Exercise

Want to Start Running? (A plan, complete with mental gymnastics)

24 thoughts on “Mindgames that Keep Me Running When I Feel Like Stopping”

  1. Hi
    I like the game you mentioned about looking into the distance instead of down at your feet. This is a favourite of mine. It even works when I am not running. If I am feeling down, I almost always tend to look down. If I deliberately lift my eyes and focus further away, my mood and motivation picks up and I am on fire again.

    I would expect that amateur athletes have a similar range of exeriences as the elite. Just maybe the experiences are a little more intense if your pay check is on the line.

    Thanks
    Tom

  2. Vern —

    You should modify this blog and submit it to running magazines. I’ll bet you could get it published with some slight modifications.

    DM

  3. I went running with my friend today for the first time in.. well.. ever. After going about a mile- I just closed my eyes as I was running to try and block everything out except the motion of me moving- this goes well with the squinting eyes! I will try these mind games tomorrow when we go out again! thanks!

  4. I’ve just started running – 4 weeks ago – and i can honestly say that i am enjoying it. The freedom, the energy and the feeling you get when you’ve finished is amazing. But I do struggle with mind over matter to keep going. I just wanted to let you know that i really enjoyed reading this and will be trying the pace counting next time i’m out on the road.

    Thank you

  5. Your first reason for stopping perfectly describes why I hate running. The body is able but the mind is weak. However I’m going running today, and I’m going to try your passing imaginary competitors technique.

    1. Hi Dani – cool, let me know how it went… For me I think the first step is to stop looking at running as something you must do… look at it as a reward. Treat yourself to it – treat your body and mind to it after a stressful day… like meditation. I used to treat myself to meditation or a bike ride or a run. It’s like vitamin for your soul… :) Good luck Dani!

  6. Thanks for the interesting article. About 5 months back I was running 4 miles every other day with moderate ease (once I managed to motivate myself : ) However I had a knee injury and was off for 4 months. I have tried to get back into running but every 3rd day and I am struggling to finish a mile without stopping, and I am exhausted easily. I will certainly be trying some of these techniques, thank you

    1. Hi John,

      Yep, it takes some getting used to once you start back. A mile is good… run it and then walk a bit. After a week or so of that you can run it, walk a bit, and run a little more – even 100 yards more. Walk. Run some more. It will come back. Don’t worry about reaching 4 miles anytime soon – just worry about progressing on some level… then it will all come back.

  7. I do the squint one ALL the time! It’s the best way I’ve found so far to get myself a bit further when I feel I can’t go on!

    As for the other ones–I’ll have to try them! I’ll have plenty of time, after all–I’m in cross country (and not quite fit for it yet….).

    1. Lol – yeah, it’s like by squinting we cancel out the harsh reality of it when things get bad. I don’t think you’d want to do that on a trail where you need to look for roots and rocks though. I just REALLY twisted my ankle hard on a root here trail ‘walking’… not even running. Still healing. Be safe.

    2. you do? Perfect… I know that other people must have tried some of my techniques before on their own before reading my stuff. But, I’ll bet you haven’t tried even half of them!

  8. The longer and faster you run, it’s proven for you to have less of a margin for improvement. This makes it harder in general for those who run more miles to improve.

    1. I keep making great strides in my running. The goals become more meaningful as they become more difficult to reach. Keep pushing Puppy Chow.

  9. This was such a great read. I’m still fairly new to running and was looking for some great tips to keep me going when I feel like slowing down. Love the mind games.

  10. When I run my mind decides it can’t be bothered and I’ll walk. I’m not sore or particularly breathless just having a moment. It’s frustrating. So I started counting but I can’t get past 29!! So start again. I’ll try your squinting and passing people idea on my next run. Fingers crossed it works.

  11. When I run and want to walk I try and fight it by saying a little mantra. I say the names of the people I love to the rhythm of my feet, for example li-sa, John. Or perhaps people you admire or aspire to their strength. imagine them, they would never give up!!!! So keep on running.😬

  12. I absolutely love this article. As a runner, the e-mind theory is very relateable. I read this article before a 10k where i needed a certain time of 37:30. So i calculated the splits i needed to hit and knew the pain was going to come. However this pain, coming from the ‘e-mind’ hit around the 6k mark. My mind was making constant evaluations with my body. I knew i was hurting but i kept repeating to myself, this is only the e-mind talking, the logical mind can keep going. Whilst this worked for me till the 9k mark, i fainted with only 1km to go. Im glad i fainted. It taught me how strong my e-mind can actually be!

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