10 Self-Talk Mistakes Runners Need to Avoid

If your inner dialogue during your runs is getting a little cranky, know you’re not alone. Every runner has self-defeating, self-doubting thoughts at some point during a training session. What separates a life-long healthy runner from someone who deserts the sport or who logs miles to burn calories is the way we speak to ourselves throughout a run.

If you fall into any of the self-talk traps listed below, two sports mental consultants have advice for how to pull yourself out of the self-talk rut:


Almost every runner has moments of doubt throughout their runs when you think things like, ‘I suck,’ or ‘I’ll never make it up this hill,’ or ‘why do I bother.’ Alison Pope-Rhodius, a certified mental performance consultant, wants runners to get objective: “What you want to do is counter those thoughts by asking, ‘What’s the evidence for and against this idea? What’s the evidence that you do suck? OK, show me your times that prove that.’” Keep questioning and exploring, and, she says, you’ll realize your self-flagellation isn’t as accurate as you originally believed.


Pope-Rhodius says two words runners should watch out for are ‘never’ and ‘always.’ Any time you’re using words that are definitive and imply this is how it will always be, stop and reflect because we all have agency if we want something. ‘l never break 20 minutes in a 5K,’ you might tell yourself. Think about it and reflect on whether that goal is something you really want to accomplish, then go about figuring out how to train for it. This exercise shows you saying you’ll ‘never’ be able to do something is often in your head. The same applies to if you tell yourself you ‘should’ do something: It’s always worth asking yourself ‘why?’


The perfectionist runners out there likely struggle with this type of self-talk the most. During every run do you get irritated if someone passes you? Or if you’re running with a friend, do you have to be the faster one? If you find yourself saying you ‘should be as fast as that person,’ pause. Thoughts like that can be damaging to your self-worth and rarely are they true. Pope-Rhodius urges runners to think objectively: If your running bestie is currently faster than you, is it accurate to say she will always be speedier? What if you started training more and focusing on your running fitness? You don’t know what she’s going through, either. “She might have very different goals than you,” Pope-Rhodius adds. “Besides, how helpful is it to continuously compare yourself to somebody else? Not at all.”


It’s natural to compare yourself to others, but it’s even more common to compare yourself to you. That’s right: Especially on rough days, it’s easy to compare yourself to how you ran a month ago or five years ago. Again, it’s time to look at your circumstances objectively. Has your life changed? (In 2020, everyone has a pass not to be as fast or as dedicated as their former self.) You’re not helping yourself by feeling like you’ve slowed down over the years; you’re only making progress harder. Stop comparing your past PRs to current intervals if it’s making you feel bad. A bit of ‘past performance envy’ can be motivating and insightful if your training changes, but if you find it leaves you mourning the runner you used to be, move on.


If you want to shift your language to more positive self-talk, Traci Stanard, an athletic mental consultant, recommends shifting how you speak and opting to use the second person instead of the first person. After all, we wouldn’t tell our best friend he sucks at running, right? Start referring to yourself as ‘you’ instead of ‘I,’ and give yourself a pep talk, suggests Stanard. “Saying things like ‘You got this!’ may have more power than ‘I’ve got this,’” she explains.


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