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Are these mental blocks slowing you down?

These three common thinking patterns can derail your training and negatively impact your performance on race day

female runner

There is no doubt that your mind impacts your performance, and many well-trained runners allow their thoughts and emotions to derail what should have been a great workout or race. The following three mental barriers are common pitfalls for many runners — are they impacting your performance?

Negative self-talk

How do you talk to yourself during a run, especially as you get tired or when the workout isn’t going as well as you’d hoped? Negative self-talk like “I’m a terrible runner,” or “why do I even bother trying, I’ll never actually reach my goal,” can easily get into your head when you hit a rough patch in your training, but it serves no purpose other than to erode your self-confidence.

You will never achieve your running goals if you don’t believe in yourself, so it’s important for all runners to learn how to counteract negative self-talk with positive affirmations and mantras. Whenever you find yourself saying something that’s self-defeating, counteract that voice with something positive like “that’s not me,” or “I can do hard things.”


When a run, workout or race doesn’t go well, it’s easy for runners to start spiraling and turn the situation into an all-out catastrophe. One bad workout, and suddenly you’re out of shape and completely unprepared for your upcoming goal race. One bad race and now you’ve wasted weeks or months of training, and should probably pick a different hobby. Another good example is getting injured. Something starts to bother you on your run (your hip, your knee, etc.) and you instantly start to panic, fearing you’ll lose weeks or even months of training.

Whenever you catch yourself mentally spiraling out of control, take a moment to breathe and calm down. One bad workout doesn’t erase all the good ones you had before it. One bad race doesn’t mean you’re a terrible runner. If you do get injured, you may have to take a few days or weeks off running, but you can probably still do other things in the meantime, like cross-training, until you’re able to get back out there.

In other words, don’t make something into a bigger problem than it really is. Setbacks happen, but they’re usually not permanent, and with time and patience, you’ll get through them.


Runners love to make a race plan and follow it down to the letter, but unfortunately, life rarely works out that way. Training runs have to get skipped for important family matters, a head cold or flu takes you out for a couple of days or a snowstorm blows through leaves you housebound for a day.

Perfectionism makes you far more likely to fall prey to both negative self-talk and catastrophizing. It causes you to berate yourself when things go wrong, and to panic when you have to miss a day or two of training. As a runner, it’s important to accept that things will rarely if ever, go perfectly. You need to be mentally flexible to deal with the ups and downs involved in a training cycle so that you’re not completely thrown off by everything that doesn’t go exactly right.

Train your mind as well as your body

This highlights how important it is for runners to train their minds alongside their bodies. Even the fittest runners can sabotage themselves by allowing negative self-talk, catastrophizing or perfectionism to affect their performance in a run or race. If you’re struggling with your mental game, consider talking to a coach or sports psychologist, who can help you come up with your own tools for managing your mind so you can enjoy the sport and run to your full potential.