Keeping your Run Mental Game Strong

Off-Season Soul-Searching for the Runner

While many of us are wholly acclimated to running long, grueling miles, and we’ve all had our grit, determination, and mental strength tested in ways non-runners can never fully understand, winter running is a beast of a sport unto itself. One that tests even the most experienced, hardened runners, and one that requires a little patience, a tolerance for discomfort, and the ability to think outside of the traditional training box. Subzero temps see a rise in cross-training runners; weights are dusted off, Peloton shoes are brought out of hibernation, and runners limber up in weekend yoga classes as they stare longingly out at the blustery cold and sheets of ice.

Though these icy conditions and serious snow drifts can make getting your miles in challenging, if not downright impossible, there are other opportunities to be had during the off-season. Even the most intense winter cross-training schedule is likely to be lighter than the average runner’s regular training log, leaving more time for….what, exactly? Reading? Catching up on a woefully neglected Netflix line-up? Or perhaps this relative abundance of free time during the running off-season is the ideal time for some soul-searching. A time for discovering – or rediscovering – your purpose as a runner.

Soul-searching is an awfully lofty term. Start throwing around words like “purpose” at the gym and you may be accused of being pretentious and out-of-touch. Fair? Perhaps. But spending some time really thinking about your why can have a lasting impact on your health and happiness.

As a coach, I have lost count of the number of runners I’ve talked to who discovered running at some point in their adult lives and feel compelled to train for a race because it’s just what you do as a runner. Now, there is NOTHING wrong with running goals that are race-focused. Having a specific target – both in terms of distance and date – can be incredibly motivating and provide a tremendous confidence boost once completed. But we can’t all live in a continuous ebb-and-flow of training cycles – or at least, our bodies will eventually protest if we do. And eventually, as with any cycle of work and reward, the reward loses its luster after a while and crossing that finish line becomes mundane. So, when we take away the bells-and-whistles of racing, what are we left with?

Personally, my big race days are behind me. I rarely race anymore, and when I do, it’s a low-key local race or a trail race I can do with my brother. Contrary to what I recommend to my clients, I run every single day without fail, averaging 10-12 miles/day. I do this because my running purpose has become clear to me over the years. Not only am I a better mom, wife, sister, daughter, employee, coach when I’ve taken that time for my physical and mental health, I have my best brainstorms for my coaching business – and life in general – while I’m running. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I know that many of my friends and neighbors are inspired by my dedication and willpower; in a sense, I run daily because we all need a little continuity and consistency in life. If I can be that source of consistency for even a few people, then I have done my little part in this world. And for some people, seeing me find time in my busy schedule to run 10 miles every single day is the inspiration (or guilt-trip?) they need to take some time for their daily self-care, too.

So take these colder months and challenge yourself in a different way. Keep the cross-training up, log those cold-toed miles when you can, but carve out some time to really consider why you started running – and why you keep running (and no, an excuse to eat more pie at Thanksgiving is NOT an acceptable answer). At the core of this process are fundamental questions you must ask yourself about your what, why, and how.

  • What are my talents, my strengths, my gifts?
  • Why do I push myself to be a better person, a more fulfilled person? Is it for myself, for my kids, another family member? What is my BIG goal in life, how I envision myself in 10, 20, 30 years?
  • How can I become this best version of myself?

Most importantly, be fully honest with yourself. There are no right or wrong answers here; we all bring something of equal – if different – importance to the table. And there’s no time like the present to figure out exactly what your why is.

arlington running coach

Kate Marden is a coach with Team RunRun. To work with Kate or to learn more about her, check out her coach profile.