Every Sunday this month I’ve run at least 6 miles (almost 10k). This is in sharp contrast to the previous three years that I’ve considered myself a runner, but never ran more than a 5k. I didn’t think I was capable of running more than that but I also never really gave it a proper try. What I’ve learnt since is that if you’re fit enough to run a 5k, you’re fit enough to run a 10k. The difference is just in your head.
To overcome the mental obstacles of increasing your running distance, you have to want it. The easiest way to achieve this is to sign up for a 10k race near you – the challenge will push you to finish even if you mentally start to break down during the race.
To break down those mental barriers before the race, there are three things I’d really encourage you to try. All of these have worked for me 100%.
1. Check your breathing
Becoming aware of my poor breathing pattern was the biggest improvement. I would breathe with my mouth open, not able to control my breath, and so after 1k I’d already be gasping and hyperventilating. Whilst I’d be on a high after finishing my run, running itself wasn’t enjoyable for me (or my partner who’d have a Darth Vader-like presence next to him).
As soon as I started to focus on breathing through the nose and controlling my breath, using the Box Breathing technique, running became so much easier! Of course, it’s still important to know how to pace yourself if you’re running a longer distance, as sprinting will make you run out of breath regardless.
2. Try running without music
Running without music can actually help you to better control your breath and your pace. When you can’t get distracted by crazy beats, you’re forced to be mindful; to be aware of the sensations in your body but also your surroundings. I have to say that running without music does feel a lot different: whereas a normal run gets me pumped for the day, after a silent run I’m still energised but in a calmer way. My mind feels clearer.
However, research has indicated that any psychological benefits of running might be placebo-induced. So it could be because of my expectations for silent runs to be more calming, that they end up being so.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius
3. Change your running route
The worst way to go about running for longer is to add more k to the route you’re used to running a 5k on. Even if you’re convinced you’ll soldier on when you set out on the run, those specific landmarks your mind is used will make you break down. When I tried to run for longer in the past, I would mentally give in as soon as I got to the landmark where my 5k runs would end, even if my legs could easily carry me on for much longer.
If changing your running route isn’t an option, consider at least changing the side of the road you run on. You want to switch up your immediate surroundings so that you avoid passing directly under or next to those landmarks that are a staple in your shorter runs.
Still think you can’t go the distance?
Finally I’d just like to share a very interesting study that’s been published this week. If you still think that running longer distances isn’t for you and that you cannot endure more than 5k, this one is a must read.
The study is an investigation into the thoughts of amateur long distance runners (think half-marathon or longer). They were asked to think aloud as they ran, and once the researchers analysed their thoughts they found that they related to three distinct categories: pace and distance, pain and discomfort, and their running environment. The thoughts occupying their minds included “Hill, you’re a bitch … it’s long and hot” and “breathe, try to relax … neck and shoulder relax”. Sound familiar? Everyone struggles. What can set you apart is your determination to soldier on and finish the run.
“…they noted that nearly all the runners recorded thoughts near the beginning of the run that suggested they were finding it difficult, but things nearly always seemed to get easier as the run progressed.”