Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 10.36.44 AMGrowing up as a basketball and baseball player, I never considered myself a runner.  I always considered myself simply an athlete. If I was running at all, it was because I had to, and I was sprinting.  I loathed the idea of running for any set period of time.  I viewed running like most young athletes: It was a form of punishment, and it sucked, plain and simple.

Fast forward a few years and couple thousand conditioning drills later, to when my college basketball days were over.  At this point, I really had no reason to sprint every single day, but the challenge of physical activity still appealed to me.  Since I had been doing the same thing for years, I wanted to take this opportunity to change things up a bit.  So I began working out and running with the focus of an endurance athlete as opposed to the sprint lifestyle that I was accustomed to.

Let me tell you, it was challenging at first.  My leg strength was good, especially on my shorter runs.  But my stamina, as you could guess, was a bit shaky.  But, I love a good challenge.  The trainer in me loves reaching a goal or accomplishing something I once thought was impossible.  So I stuck with it.  Slowly but surely, I started to get better at this endurance thing.  Sure, my body was adapting physically, but that wasn’t what kept me going.  The tool that helped me improve more than anything was the new mental approach I took to running.  Without a change in my thought process, I would never have seen a change in my performance.

So, I want to share with you the mental aspects of my training that help me get through my more difficult workouts and training programs.

Be Thankful.  Whether it’s the beginning of a long race, a hard workout on the treadmill, or a simple 3- or 4-miler at the end of the day, be thankful that you are able to do what you love.  Not everybody is capable of going out and running whenever they want to.  You are fortunate.  Remind yourself of this next time you don’t feel like doing what you need to.

Embrace the Pain.  The only way you’re going to be able to push through your limits and improve is if you persevere through some pain.  I tell my clients on a regular basis: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.  In order to improve, you have to get out of your comfort zone.  The more “comfortable” you are with this, the more likely you are to actually reach that point.

Tackle the Obstacles.  It’s cold outside.  Wear a jacket.  It’s windy, maybe raining or snowing.  Wear a different jacket.  Your favorite treadmill is taken.  Find another one.  There is a huge hill coming up.  Lower your head and drive those legs.  If you’re having difficulty overcoming some of the obstacles you are inevitably going to encounter, then look at it like this: It could ALWAYS be worse.

Change Your Focus.  Way too often people focus on how far they have left to go.  Five more miles.  20 more minutes.  10 more sprints.  Rather than focus on how far you have left to go, try to focus on how far you’ve gone.  Concentrating on what you’ve already accomplished is much easier than worrying about what you’ve got left to do.

Slow Down.  Take time every once in a while to appreciate the little things you encounter along the way.  Enjoy the sunset on your evening run.  Bring a buddy on a long, slow run, and talk about nothing in particular.  Get lost in the silence of an old country back road.  There are so many things to enjoy about running, you sometimes have to simply stop and remind yourself of what they are.

Applaud Yourself.  Give yourself a break.  Everybody needs positive reinforcement every once in a while.  Be proud of that 5-miler you ran earlier this week, or that sprint workout you just crushed.  All too often we’re left thinking about what we did wrong or could have done better.  Every now and then, you need to quit all that nonsense and give yourself some credit for the good things you’re doing.

There are plenty of other mental cues out there that can improve your running.  These, however, are some that I try to remember on a daily basis.  They help me out tremendously and my hope is that they will do the same for you.  Now lace up those shoes and get out on the road!!

Post contributed by Brock Jones.  Brock is Co-Owner and Head Trainer with BodyFIT, Inc. in Lexington, KY. He holds a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kentucky and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  You can read more of Brock’s posts about fitness and exercise on the BodyFIT Punch Blog.