In her lastest Fast10 blog distance runner Hannah Irwin talks about the importance of a positive mindset.

Possessing a positive outlook on running and life in general is an important attribute to have. It is much harder than it looks, and something everyone struggles with at times.

Of course, it’s impossible to be positive all the time, but it is so important to combat negative thoughts and develop ways of managing them. I for one have struggled in the past with a negative mindset, and still do at times, it isn’t something that goes away overnight. However, I have learnt to change the way my mind thinks, and to test it when negative thoughts resurface. 

Remaining positive in training

We can’t control when negative thoughts fill our mind, but we can control how we deal with them. I used to, and still do at times, put so much pressure on myself before every run or session, convinced I wouldn’t be able to complete whatever training I had ahead of me. I was always doubting myself and my ability, questioning whether I could do what I had been set.

This fear I had made up in my head of not being good enough filled my mind with negative thoughts. I knew my body was capable of doing what had been set, and I had done it time and time again before, but somehow my mind would tell me I couldn’t do it. 

How do I deal with this?

When such thoughts fill my head, it is hard to get rid of them. Yes, a little bit of nerves can be good before certain sessions, but not on a regular basis. I remind myself of the reason I run; because I love it! It is important to question negative thoughts and test their validity. Sounds scientific, but it is so true.

There is no reason not to believe in yourself. Training is essential in order to progress, we don’t need to fear it. Of course, it is going to hurt, and it is going to be tough, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough. When I feel myself getting tired and the pain setting in, I look at this in a positive way. This should be celebrated. I am working myself to the limit and pushing my body’s boundaries. This is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Whilst the session may be tough, it is always worth it at the end. 

It may seem silly, but a lot of the time sessions are only mind games. Your body is capable of the session ahead, but you have to convince your mind of this too. In tough sessions I focus on every rep as its own, rather than the session as a whole. I try to focus on how many reps I have done, not how many more I have to do. I also look at everything in a positive way, focusing on what I have completed rather than what I haven’t. 

Race positive

Your mindset during a race can govern how you perform, especially when the pain kicks in. In the past I used to doubt myself a lot prior to a race. So much so that it got to a point where I was afraid of racing. I was scared of the negative thoughts that constantly wore away at me.

Whilst I did physically struggle during races when I was a ‘skinny, weak athlete’, the ‘skinny, weak mindset’ stayed with me once I had regained my physical strength. I had become so used to the difficulty of racing with a weak body, that I didn’t have any confidence in my body anymore. 

The negativity got so intense I had to take time out from racing to erase the pressure I was putting on myself. I was experiencing some major stress  outside of running, therefore I didn’t have the mental strength needed to race; it was that simple. After some much-needed time out to focus on regaining my self-belief, I was ready to race again. During my time out from racing, I confronted the demons in my mind and dealt with them.

I had to show myself I was strong enough in training, in order to believe it when I was racing. 

Focus on the positives

In the build-up to a race, and the moments before, I remind myself of all the hard training I have put in. There is no benefit in focusing on what I haven’t done, so I focus on what I have. I remember all the tough sessions I’ve completed, the strength my body showed, and I bring this strength into the race. I try not to focus on how tired I am during the race, or how heavy my legs may feel, but instead, the strength my body is showing.

Our bodies are amazing things and they can handle the pain we put them through. Whilst racing is hard, we don’t race for it to be easy, we train hard, so we can tolerate even more discomfort on race day. I love the challenge racing creates and have now learnt not to doubt myself. In the end, I can only do my best, and this can only happen if I relax, enjoy myself, and be positive. Whatever happens, there is always a positive lesson to take away from every race. 

I erase any self-doubt from my mind and channel this into determination. I tell myself to be proud of where I am and to celebrate the opportunity to put all my hard training to the test that racing allows. Running is hard enough by itself, don’t make it harder by beating yourself up along the way.

Make sure you are on your own side and not working against yourself. During races I find it helpful to motivate myself along the way if I am struggling. I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing. It may sound cheesy, but I find it helpful to speak to myself. I tell myself ‘I am strong enough and I can do it’. Whilst you may not believe it helps, it really does. If you tell yourself this you will believe it, just as you believe you can’t do it if you tell yourself so.

Breathe and relax

Finally, stay relaxed. Allow yourself enough time to travel, to get your number, and warm up. If you feel relaxed, so will your mind, and negativity will be less likely to creep into your thoughts. I am much more positive when I am relaxed instead of anxious, therefore I try to avoid anything on race day that may evoke these feelings.

It is so important to remain positive before racing and to surround yourself with people who help this. Their positivity will prevent your mind from wondering away with itself. Nothing positive ever came out of being negative, therefore we will automatically race better if we are positive in the build-up. 

Don’t be afraid to speak out

Negative thoughts happen to us all, but it is so important to SPEAK about them! Speak about the negative thoughts going through your mind, because you aren’t alone. We all experience them, I still do, but I have learnt ways to control them. I was guilty in the past of letting negativity control me and escalate into a continual downward spiral towards self-destruction.

Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. Even if you don’t believe it initially, talking about your worries, or whatever negative thoughts are ruling your mind, helps. Whether it be to a professional, a relative, or a friend, discussing your negative thoughts with someone else makes them not seem so bad. 

If there are certain things that trigger your negativity, whether it be social media or a particular situation, take a temporary break from it. Develop ways that help you combat those triggers before you tackle them again. Most importantly, keep smiling, because a smile makes you feel 100 times better!