Can Some Runners Cope Better Than Others With The Discomfort In Races? Mindfulness Coach and Keen Runner Tom Cleary Investigates

Mindfulness coach and keen runner Tom Cleary believes some people are better able
to drive themselves on through the discomfort to reach their limits. For example, it is theorised that Paula Radcliffe’s success is partly due to that.

Tom says: “There are various mental techniques for reducing or managing pain, and a lot of evidence for their use in areas such as sports hypnosis.

“Our perception of pain and effort is influenced by several factors, including how much attention we pay to it. Getting scratched by a branch while out for a gentle walk is likely to hurt much more than if it happens during a race where you’re focused on overtaking the person in front of you. And even less if it happens when you’re running away from a tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo.

“So how can that help with your running? Well, if you find yourself focusing on the pain a lot, making it bigger than it is, wondering if it’s something bad, thinking it means you haven’t trained enough, then it’s likely to have a negative impact on either your speed or distance.

“The opposite is also true: if you try to focus on anything except the pain, distracting yourself and attempting to force it out of your mind, this can actually make it worse. The more we try to block it from our minds and ignore it, the more it can remain and become an obstacle, and one that can get worse over time.

“So the balance is crucial and the key word is acceptance: acknowledging and accepting the pain is there, listening to anything it’s telling you and not paying it any more attention than that. Stop wasting energy focusing on small aches and pains and channel it into your running. Rather than imagining the pain is going to get worse, think of it as showing you that your muscles are working hard and imagine yourself finishing the race powerfully.

“Also, find out what works for you. For some people a certain level of discomfort can be a motivator, for others it puts them off.  But either way, it’s something you can train your mind to get better at. I’ve seen a lot of runners get far better once they do so, and push past what they once thought were their limits.”

Tom Cleary is a cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, mindfulness teacher and coach at Train Your Mind

The above is one of our Q&A training advice pieces from the current issue of Trail Running – Click Here to view the original