5 Mental Barriers, Smashed

OFTEN THE BIGGEST obstacle to running has nothing to do with the legs and lungs; it’s about what’s on your mind. Here’s how to clear some common mental hurdles that can keep you from getting out the door.

THE OBSTACLE: Working out hurts!

GET OVER IT: Tuning out—not in—can help you get through those tough first workouts, says Christy Greenleaf, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin. Recruit a friend to walk the neighbourhood with you; watch your favorite sitcom while you’re on the treadmill; put together a workout mix with tunes that evoke happy memories. Studies have shown that listening to music reduces the level of perceived exertion, or how hard you feel like you’re working. “Any way that you can focus your attention on something other than how your body feels will help,” says Greenleaf. “As you get more experienced and your body adapts to training, you can tune in more to what your body is experiencing.” And remember, it’s unpleasant for everyone in the beginning. “Every step you take hurts at first,” says coach Jeff Gaudette, founder of RunnersConnect, an online training service. “But you’ve just got to trust that you will feel better.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m worried everyone will laugh!

GET OVER IT: Enlist a buddy for your first outing to the gym, the trail, or even a group run. Or connect online with other newbies who are venturing out for their first runs. Studies have shown that buddying up—whether it’s a person, a running group, or connecting online—increases your chances of sticking with an exercise routine. Everyone feels self-conscious at first. Susan Monk a training coordinator says she often hears from people who came to the first day of training, but felt too daunted to get out of their cars. “We get so caught up in the anxiety and fear of being negatively evaluated by others,” says Christy Greenleaf, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin.  “But the reality is that most of the time other people are way more concerned about themselves.” Recruit a support crew of nonrunners to support your efforts, whether it’s your spouse, parents, roommate, boss, or coworkers, says coach Mindy Solkin, of The Running Center. “When someone who isn’t in the running world knows that you used to be on the couch, they can appreciate what a big deal it is that you just ran three kilometres,” she says. “It’s a big deal.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m too busy!

GET OVER IT: Find the time of day when running is nonnegotiable, says coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul. For most people, that’s the morning, when no meetings are scheduled and the kids are still in bed. “If you do it first thing, you don’t have time to think up an excuse,” she says. And make sure that you have cleared enough time to work out so that it doesn’t jam up your day. If a morning run means you’re speeding to work and stressed about being late, the workout will start to feel like punishment, says Charles Duhigg, author of the book The Power of Habit.  “The brain starts relating to the workout in a negative way,” he says. “And it will be hard to make it into a habit.”

THE OBSTACLE: I missed working out for a week because of my job (or I was hurt, sick, or…insert excuse here). It feels like too much work to start over. I might as well give up.

GET OVER IT: Press the reset button, and start over, just like you would on a video game, says online training coach Jeff Gaudette. “Let go of the past, and focus on what you can control today,” he says. “Ask yourself, Can I run today? Can I make myself better?” And you may be happily surprised at how fast you bounce back. “Even beginners are surprised at how quickly they can get back on track,” says Paul. “Even if they took two weeks off, they haven’t lost as much fitness as they think.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m working so hard, but I’m not getting anywhere!

GET OVER IT: Be patient. Many of the positive changes that are happening when you start exercising won’t be visible in the mirror or on the scale. “Everyone expects to lose the weight in an instant, and run longer and faster right away,” says Paul. “The weight loss will come if you’re consistent, but it takes time to condition your muscles, ligaments, and tendons,” she says.  The body makes more capillaries (tiny blood vessels that transfer oxygen and waste products into and out of cells), more mitochondria, (the energy-producing structures in cells), and more enzymes that help the body use fat as fuel, Paul explains. Plus, every time your foot strikes the ground, it stimulates bone growth, so your bones get stronger and denser. “When you’re not patient, “ says Paul, “you make all the mistakes of doing too much too soon and too fast and getting overuse injuries and thinking that running is bad for you.”

Increase your mileage with the Run Longer Plan.


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