The mind games we play when getting back into running

It’s 5:30 AM.  I roll over and think, “I can’t be bothered.”  

I’ve got a slight hangover after one too many wines last night, but I’m trying to get back into a routine of exercising regularly.  The battle rages in my slightly hazy head.  

"Do I get up and run, or do I stay here in bed and potentially feel guilty about it for the rest of the day?"  

No movement.  No movement in the rest of the house either.  Not even the dog wants to go out, and she probably needs to pee more than I do.  

"Why is this so difficult?  I hate feeling like this.  Just get up and go!  This was so easy 6 weeks ago!"

"Did I get my shoes and running gear together last night?…. No.  Eurgh.  It’s too difficult.  I’m going to leave it.  Oh come on…"

….and so the battle rages until I decide one way or the other.  To run or not to run, that is the question.

It’s a rubbish and emotionally exhausting way to start a day, but it’s the way that so many people start theirs.  Welcome to unstructured training and time off for the Type A runner!  After 6 months of solid training, dedication and commitment, with almost no morning procrastination, now is the time for rest and recharge, but like many runners after their big race, I feel like this.

This is the point where you are through the worst of the post race blues, but are “trying to get back into it” and it’s not much fun in my book.  It’s at this point where many people get really frustrated.  It feels like its two steps forward, then three steps back.  Your legs feel tight (because let’s be honest you haven’t had a massage since the race and you haven’t even looked at the foam roller…) and whenever you run (even slowly) a few niggles appear from nowhere so you can’t even get anywhere near consistent.  

If you are anything like me, all of these mind games are whirling around in your head and you just can’t figure out the best thing to do.  There’s 15 too many decisions to make on a daily basis…. How far should I run?  How fast should I run?  Should I organise to run with someone?  Maybe I should go to the gym instead?  But I’m supposed to be on a break?  I’m feeling tired and I’m busy today, maybe I should leave it until tomorrow?  Would I rather have a wine, I’ve earned it? But then how am I going to lose this weight?….the list goes on….  

So before I depress you too much, lets take a second and ask… 

'How do we break out of this funk and ‘get back into it?’ 

The idea of ‘getting back into it’ is one of the most common things that I help people with as a running coach, so I think it is worth spending some time on.  Whether its the runners at our GoRun Group or just observing others, it seems like we all struggle with this at times.   That’s why I am going to do a short series of blogs that run through this exact topic.  The blogs will loosely follow 5 stages, based around established psychology and mental wellbeing strategies, they are:

  1. Recognise

  2. Refuse

  3. Relax

  4. Reframe

  5. Reset



Don't despair! Whether you have just raced a marathon or whether the break from a fitness routine has been longer, be assured that it is possible to get back into it.  Everyone has the ability to do this stuff, get started, stick to a routine and make progress, but the road to overcoming your mental mind games and getting back into your running starts with recognising what you are doing and your own habits / emotions.

It is important to recognise that from the moment you finish your race and begin the post race debrief with anyone who is prepared to listen, things are different.  You are now in the post race world where there is no structure, no routine, self congratulation is at an all time high and the environments that you previously avoided / sacrificed, are now fair game.  You have done 'Fat Week’ with applaudable dedication and officially begun on the slippery slope to needing inspirational quotes to help ‘motivate’ you to train again.  To me, this is the road to hell.  The enormous training shaped hole in your calendar each day is being filled by looking on Instagram at other people running, then kind of resenting them and yourself for it, which is nowhere near as good as the real thing. 

I first recognised that I went through ’stages' after my last big event.  I instinctively recognised that I actually go through the same stages each and every time post race.  I can almost predict the ups and downs of my emotions to the day.  Recognising those stages in myself gave me reassurance that actually, in the long run things would be ok and I would be able to get back into it. Whilst it is inevitable that you will get frustrated, the silver lining is that actually there is a process you can use and many of our reactions and emotions during this period are entirely recognisable and predictable. 

Let’s assume you take a few weeks off after your big event.  What do those weeks look like? Do you think you can recognise any predictable patterns? 

Let’s see….

Post race - Week 1:  AKA Fat Week: 24 hour a day (ish) guilt free burgers, ice cream and booze because everyone is telling you that “you’ve earned it.”  You are tired and still on a high, as you begin to actually spend some time with your family and (non-running) friends for the first time in ages.

Post race - Week 2: Still loving the post race feels but the uber eats deliveries are getting a little old and you are developing an extra layer around your gut. You don’t want things to slip too far, so you are meeting up for a few social runs, followed by feeling sore and tight.  You might run a couple of days in a row, then miss 3-4 days.  Can’t be bothered to be consistent really, you have earned the break after all.

Post race - Week 3: Still on a slight high and bumping into people who congratulate you on your event.  Still feels pretty good to have achieved something like that but now something is missing.  There is an enormous training shaped hole in your calendar each day and it is being filled by other stuff, which isn’t really going to help your running.  You keep saying….”ok, time to get back into it.”  The guilt is creeping in now.

Post race - After 4 weeks:  You are looking at regularly and getting drawn into comparisons with other runners as you debate your next challenge.  However, your body feels so far from where it was a mere few weeks ago.  You are still saying….”ok, now its really time to get back into it.”  The guilt is getting worse and you are slightly worried about whether you can return to your previous fitness levels.  You are now trying artificial ‘tactics’ or 'inspo' to try and persuade yourself to get back into it. 

Post race - After 5 weeks: The landslide of backwards movement is in full swing.  You are hitting the panic buttons as you weigh yourself and the scales tell you results which you then double check after moving the scales slightly.  You can’t seem to control the impulses for more crap food and couch time, let alone muster up the energy to start a new routine.  Regularly checking event calendars isn’t bringing anything other than confusion about the next goal and as a result you feel a bit stuck, guilty, inconsistent, un-motivated, goal-less and slightly rounder than you were 5 weeks ago.

So… is it just me, or can you recognise some of your own habits and emotions in here?  

Let me know which parts sound familiar and in the next blog we will move on from ‘recognising’ to the other stages that help get you back on track.