The term willpower is often associated with giving up the nice thinks in life ….. chocolate, crisps, alcohol etc. However, after a recent 5k run I contemplated what part willpower plays in my running. We all have it and we can all increase it, whether during a parkrun or a marathon.
Willpower choices confront you from the moment you wake. It’s Saturday morning and you’ve set your alarm clock for earlier than your working week but that’s ok because you’re going running. No snooze button, no turning over …. just get going !!
Your second choice would be what kind of run are you planning. Whether its three miles or twenty, applying your willpower can make a huge difference.
The final choice, do I train on my own or with others ? Your willpower can be equally tested here, whether its trying to keep up with your training partners or pushing yourself on your own.
Ok, so you are off and running …. you’ve shown drive, determination and self discipline to be here, let’s face it a lot of people are still at home in bed !!
Whether its race day or a training run not starting too quickly requires willpower, its so easy to get carried away but a measured start pays dividends every time.
As your run progresses, inevitably you’ll reach a point where self doubt becomes a factor. Shall I slow down ? Should I shorten my run ? Regardless of your ability you need to decide what your response will be and which tools you can call on.
We can probably pinpoint the moment the voices start asking these questions of us and its at that point were some previously prepared thoughts can really help.
For the shorter distances were your lungs are starting to complain I try to recognise the discomfort and concentrate on the next 100 metres, focus on a point, maybe a lamppost maybe a tree. Once you’ve reached your focus point, set yourself another. During each 100 metres I try to concentrate on controlling my breathing and if that means running slightly slower for a short period, then that’s fine too.
Once you’ve dealt with that moment of feeling out of control a wave of confidence will sweep over you. Running is meant to be challenging but being prepared for the self doubt with a positive strategy can be very empowering. Combine willpower and acknowledging how much you want to reach your goals, for a winning formula.
That burning feeling of lactic acid isn’t going to go away but talking yourself through it rather than talking yourself out of it will see you through. Resist the temptation to slow down for as long as you can, I sometimes try a shorter but quicker stride. Practice this positive thought process of not giving in.
Ultimately this short term discomfort will be rewarded with the time on your watch.
Willpower for marathon training is a different matter. Naturally you are running for considerably longer so its all about spreading your effort in the most realistic and practical manner.
I practise staying positive when running uphill, short burst of walking vigorously for ten strides and then running again can work wonders for your mind set.
Your training will take you most of the way to twenty miles, its the last 6.2 that need willpower. You’ve reached the famous “Wall”, you need a plan to avoid the famous bonk. Break it down, one 10K, two parkruns etc. Remind yourself of what you’re doing, I think its still only 1% of the worlds population that have run a marathon.
Giving your willpower a helping hand by having kept hydrated and energised will add to your mental fortitude. Having the confidence that you “can do it” goes a long way and quite simply “I’m bloody going to do it” helps too. Get fired up, dig deep and as 20 miles become 21,22,23 its surprising how empowering your willpower feels.
I’m quite happy to admit that I get emotional towards the end of a long run. You’ve answered those negative thoughts and that buzz will prepare you for the next time. Positive reinforcement is a huge weapon to have in your armoury.
These thoughts are based on my running experiences and my emotions, both come together in the phrase “your legs achieve what your mind believes”.
I recently read that willpower is the capacity to override an unwanted thought. In sporting terms its replacing negative thoughts with positive strategies.
This photo is of 401 marathons Ben, half way up Butser Hill waiting for other runners to catch up. If anyone epitomises willpower it’s Ben and it was inspiring to meet him.
While training your legs and lungs make some time to work on your willpower.
Thanks for reading.