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How to Keep Running (When You Want to Stop) - 5 Ideas

Published or Updated On: 
November 15, 2022

If you’re searching for this article, you’ve may have recently had an experience that went something like this:

“I’m going to go for a run!”

“OK, off to a good start!”

“…this is getting kind of hard!”

“Holy sh!#@ people do this for fun?!”

Lungs burning, legs like lead weights, a voice in your head screaming to throw in the towel. Whether you’re new to running or not, learning some strategies on how to keep running when you want to stop will definitely help you achieve your running goals.

I was never a naturally gifted runner, and when I started running, I could barely make it a half mile down the street. At 6’1 and 190lbs, I wasn’t fast, and running was a highly uncomfortable experience. It wouldn’t be long after I set foot out the door and started chugging along that I began to feel the urge to stop.

Through trial and error, I figured out how to overcome the urge to stop running — and went on to complete an Ironman Triathlon, which is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, all consecutively in one race. Here are the methods that have helped me keep running when I've wanted to stop:

1. Slow down

It’s a lot easier to keep running when you aren’t sucking major wind. Running too fast will kill your motivation to stick with it and raise your risk of injury. That first half mile I did, cooking it? Shin splints for a year. Totally avoidable. Running fast when you’re starting off (or getting back into) it isn’t needed either. Slowing down isn’t the coward's way out, it’s training smart. A solid aerobic fitness base is centered around slow, easy runs. The best runners in the world do most of their runs at a difficulty that is slow & easy for them. Take a tip from the pros!

2. Bargain with yourself on the distance

Say you set out to run 2 miles. You're now 1 mile in, but the motivation that got you started is long gone and you want to stop. Try saying to yourself “OK, I need to make it to 1.5 miles. Once I hit that, then I can decide if I really want to quit.” Boosting through psychological low points by setting interim distance goals can keep your legs moving when you are feeling right on the brink. You may find that, when you arrive at mile 1.5, you don’t feel quite as bad — or now you can tell yourself that you’re 75% of the way done, on the final stretch, and use that perspective to help you finish strong. 

I used this technique on my Ironman Triathlon. I almost quit during the bike portion. I was fighting a strong headwind that made every pedal stroke harder. I was alone too, save for being recently passed by someone’s grandpa (I would later discover was he was oldest person in the race, 100% true). I was feeling about as low as you can go. I told myself that if I made it to the run, then I could quit then if I wanted. I actually felt a lot better by the time I got to the run, and found the run to be substantially easier than the bike.

3. Find a pleasant distraction

If you’re running on a treadmill & there’s a TV nearby, save a good show or movie for a time that you’re on the treadmill. If you’re running outside, try listening to a podcast, audiobook, or a curated playlist of music to keep you feeling good. Try to notice any natural beauty in your environment. Running with a partner can be great too, and you should be running at a pace where you can have enough breath for some conversation.

4. Mentally accept the discomfort

Running feels simultaneously good and bad. It feels good to move your body, clear your lungs, and be active. Young children don’t hold still when they play, they move. Movement and play are intertwined and running is, at it’s core, just movement. At the same time, running taxes your body. Your muscles, cardiovascular system, and coordination are all put to the test. This is inherently uncomfortable, especially over increasing distances or speeds.

An important way to keep running when you want to stop is to mentally accept this discomfort. You can do this while you are running by consciously choosing to accept what you are feeling, as you are feeling it. This runs contrary to our default, automatic mental perspective on uncomfortable feelings, which is to wish that they would go away or stop. By choosing to accept the discomfort and ceasing your resistance of it, you may find that the pain isn’t as troublesome, as sharp or problematic. In fewer words: embrace the suck!

5. View it as toughness training

My dentist told me that flossing regularly helps toughen your gums, which makes them more resistant to bleeding and disease. I’ve found that your mind can be toughened the same way. Another great way to keep running when you want to stop is to think of your discomfort as toughness training. While you’re running and want to stop, remember that you are making your body & mind more resilient, more capable. Every step you take when you want to stop is building that toughness, and it accumulates over time. Do hard things to become harder.

Give these techniques a try and see if they work for you!

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