Words by Claire Chamberlain

We’ve all had a bad run at one time or another, whether it was a race that didn’t go to plan or a jog around the park where your legs felt like lead. You know how it starts – you focus on that niggle in your calf or worry about the hill halfway through your route, and when you finally drag yourself out of the door (if you manage to at all), you can’t seem to find your stride, let alone enjoy it. In short, a lack of confidence can hamper your physical ability. According to Jacqui Cleaver, life coach at New You Boot Camp positive thinking is vital. “The body is physically capable of so much– it’s people’s minds that prevent them from achieving their running goals,” she says.

Becki Houlston, a life coach based in Bournemouth and London, agrees. “The formula for elite achievement is Potential – Interference = Performance,” she explains. Put simply, remove the obstacles your mind throws in your path, such as fear and worry, and you’ll be able to achieve your full potential. Need some help to boost your mental strength?

Here are four confidence-zapping scenarios and how to push through them…

1 Get out there

If you’re new to running, getting out of the door in the first place can be a huge challenge. The first step is to erase the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. “There’s no “can’t” about it – you simply don’t want to.” Next, set achievable goals. Many people start training with a specific goal in mind, whether it’s a 5K or a half marathon. However, when you first start running, there might be such a big gap between your current ability and your end goal that you end up feeling demotivated. The key, is to break your goals into more realistic chunks. Set yourself a small, manageable target each run, even if it’s as basic as trying to run a few more metre. These small goals will give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of every session.

2 Go the distance

As a regular runner, it’s likely you have set routes of a certain distance that you can complete comfortably. But what if you want to up your mileage and are struggling with the extra distance? According to Cleaver, this is a common mental block. “A regular runner’s mindset tells them they’re already pushing to full capacity,” she says. “The key is to break those personal boundaries by setting new, attainable goals.” So, if you currently run 5K three times a week, but want to complete a 10K race, add 1K every two weeks. “It’s imperative that you pre-plan your new routes, so your new mindset is in place before you head out,” says Cleaver. Houlston also points out that it’s important to breathe easily while you run, in order to keep your mind on track. “The brain needs oxygen to stay focused, but it’s common for runners to hold their breath when they start to feel fatigued,” she says. “This results in the brain shutting down all but essential life systems. It will stop you thinking clearly, which will limit your performance.” So, if you start to feel tired, focus on your breathing to stay in control. “A good mantra to run with is, “My lungs are relaxed”, says Houlston.

3 Keep calm

So, you’ve made it to the start line of your race – but what if race-day nerves set in? “A fabulous mechanism to calm nerves is “anchoring”, says Cleaver. “Anchors can be set at any time and will help your mind stay grounded and calm.” Cleaver suggests that music can be a great race-day anchor. “It’s a good idea to create a playlist of calming music that you can listen to before your run,” she says. “If it’s music you’ve listened to before in a relaxed, happy setting, your brain will acknowledge the calming influence and subconsciously bring you back to that time.”

4 Back on track

If you’ve had a bad running experience, whether it’s a race you failed to finish or a training run you struggled with, it can be difficult to get past your feelings of disappointment. But a little brain training will go a long way. Try “visioning” to mentally prepare yourself for success. This involves creating a detailed mental picture of how your next run or race will look, sound and feel –it’s like mentally rehearsing your success. So, picture yourself running with the perfect technique and – if your goal is a long-distance run – mentally rehearse breaking through that wall. “The more perfect you can make your vision, the better,” says Cleaver. “That way, when you come to physically running your race you’ll be perfectly prepared, as you’ll have mentally achieved your goal many times.”


Train your brain:

Jacqui Cleaver gives you her top five tips to boost your mental success.

Sit quietly, close your eyes and visualise yourself running the route or race. Picture every element, including what you look like, what you’re wearing and how you feel as you run.

If there’s a distance you want to run in a certain time, repeat this to yourself. For example: ‘I WILL run 10K in 60 minutes.’ Be specific – your brain will subconsciously pick up on the details.

Cut a picture out of a magazine of someone running through a finish line looking happy. Look at this picture every day, repeating to yourself: “This will be me on…”

Create a goal diary, where you can write down your realistic goals and tick them off once you’ve achieved them. Be sure to congratulate yourself on each achievement.

Music is a great way to anchor yourself in a positive frame of mind, so create a playlist on your iPod that gets you in the mood to move!