Have you ever looked at a run that’s on your calendar and thought, “this looks way too hard. I don’t think I can do it.”?
These thoughts are totally normal.
Some runs are tough because we face a good deal of stress in our lives. Other runs are tough because we don’t think we can do it—whether it’s a new track workout, a distance we haven’t run yet, or holding a specific pace for several miles.
So how can you keep running when you want to stop? And how can you settle your mind so you can focus on running those difficult workouts?
There’s one proven strategy that’ll help you manage the emotions that arise from seeing a challenging run on your calendar. Bonus side effect: you’ll most likely crush that run.
It’s called an ‘implementation intention’, or, an ‘if-then’ plan.
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What is an implementation intention, anyway?
An implementation intention means creating a plan to how you’ll respond in a particular situation. In this case, a really tough run.
Specifically, the plan’s called the ‘if-then’ plan you’ll design to reach a specific goal. It requires you to identify specific thoughts and feelings about your run and how you’ll respond to it.
For example, ‘if I’m feeling this….then I’ll do that’.
This planning is important because it helps you form a mental image of what you need to do so it can happen automatically.
It’s almost like energy savings. You want to save your energy for your run, rather than fighting the thoughts in your head.
Here’s how a research study on tennis players show that those negative emotions don’t have to get in the way of performance.
Researchers investigated whether implementation intentions could prevent negative emotions, such as anxiety and nervousness, from affecting tennis players’ performance.
Before a competitive match, players selected four negative feelings they frequently encountered that derailed their performance. Then, they identified the responses they felt were most helpful in minimizing the effects of these negative feelings.
After the competitive match, researchers found that crafting an ‘if-then’ plan helped players perform well and reach their goals, despite high performance anxiety.
4 simple steps on how you can keep running when you want to stop
You can have a variety of ‘if-then’ plans specifically geared toward diminishing the thoughts and feelings that get in the way of a scary, hard run.
Here’s what to do:
Set a goal for your run and write it down. You may want to consider a running journal to keep track of your running progress. Bonus side effect of keeping a running journal? More running motivation.
Running journals you might like:
Identify the thoughts and feelings you most frequently face when confronted with a tough run. This is the ‘if’ portion of your ‘if-then plan.’
Do you feel as if it’s too difficult and you couldn’t possibly do it? Do you feel nervous about hitting specific paces? Whatever it is, be as specific as possible so you can craft an effective response to those feelings.
Select a response to reduce the effects of those thoughts and feelings. This is the ‘then’ portion of the ‘if-then’ plan.
If I question my sanity or why I’m doing this…then I’ll remember that I’m doing this because I want to run my first 5k.
If I feel like this run is too long…then I’ll focus on a mile at a time.
If I’m overwhelmed by the number of intervals—8 x 800m—in my track workout…then I’ll focus on one 800m at a time.
If I’m running hills, then I will remind myself that this is speed training in disguise.
Review your ‘if-then’ plan before your run.
One last thing on how you can keep running when you want to stop
It’s normal to look at an almost impossible run on your calendar and feel as if you can’t run it.
We’ve all been there.
But, if you create an ‘if-then’ plan, it’ll help you manage those thoughts and feelings that get in the way of successfully completing a tough run.
Tough runs are on your calendar to push your limits mentally and physically. In the end, it’s there to show you you’re capable of so much more than you think you are.
And that is a major confidence booster.