I ran about the distance of a 5K yesterday for the first time in my life. ~3.1 miles isn’t very far in the grand scheme of things, but for someone new to serious running-as-exercise, it’s something I thought I would have to do a lot more work to reach.
There were a few things that helped me run that distance despite my doubts:
1. Have a training goal in mind. I went into yesterday’s run with the context of (at least loosely) wanting to be able to run a 5K. Once I started to hit mileage close to a 5K, this goal became a clear motivator. I was not going to stop running until I had proven that I could cover the 5K distance.
2. Use curiosity as motivation. As I’ve written before, running a new trail can be a powerful way to pull more from your body. When you don’t quite know when a trail ends (or what scenery you’ll find on it), you can find motivation to keep going even when your body might feel like slowing or stopping.
3. Get a running partner. I would not have finished my course without the accountability, support, and encouragement from my running partner. Get someone who can help you pace yourself. Then let your own sense of pride and your own desire for praise force you to finish the run with that person.
4. Focus on the next breath. Breathe in and breathe out, and repeat that cycle until you find yourself at the end of the trail. Turn inward and focus on the cycle of breath that is sustaining you. Shut your mouth and focus.
5. Track your progress. Having mile markers along my trail helped to encourage me. When you hit one mile, you’re going to want to hit two. Keep in mind the distance you have run. Compare it to your training goal (#1).
6. Set checkpoints. If you feel exhausted, make a deal with yourself that you will go to the next lamppost at least before stopping. Once you get there, make another deal for another checkpoint, and so on. Break up the struggle into a series of small battles with easy-won victories, and the long haul will be a bit more manageable.
7. Don’t listen to your body. As Alex Hutchinson explains on an episode of Lifehacker.com’s podcast The Upgrade, the human body sends signals of exhaustion a good bit before the body is actually exhausted. Tell your body to shut up. Keep going. As long as a distance is practical for you from a health standpoint, you can probably bear more exhaustion than you expect.