Low-Mo Days: Breaking Through Mental Training Barriers


We feel great when we run, not many things beat that natural high. So why on some days does our motivation dissipate as soon as we look at our running shoes, or before? 

Every runner comes up against mental walls. They pop up when we least expect it, and usually when it’s the most inconvenient. So what can we do? How do we push past the siren song of comfy bed covers or the TV (or chores) calling?

1. Plan Ahead

Ok, this one might seem simple, but it’s a great start for a reason. Setting your running gear out in plain sight serves as a visual cue for your intention. Essentially it saves your unruly pre-run brain from the burden of making a decision. MIT researchers have found that all habits rely on 3 basic components, called a “habit loop.” These consist of a cue, a routine, and an award. Leverage this cue-based neurological hack to get yourself off the sofa and onto the pavement! 

2. Record a Message (From You, to You)

We’re all guilty of it … the “infinite snooze.” Spanning from first alarm to time-we-have-obligations. Conveniently quashing all possibility of those productive post-wake workouts. If you’re a morning or post-wake runner then the temptation to hit the snooze button or find other “urgent” things to do instead of train will be strong at times. 

Win the argument with post-sleep you with a pre-recorded message from yourself to yourself combating unhelpful mindsets. If you’re planning to run right after waking, you can set this message up as your alarm clock — or set it to play 10 minutes before you need to head out the door. You know you better than anyone so (lovingly) tell yourself what you need to hear!

3. Just Start It

There’s something to be said for Nike’s catchphrase of “Just Do It” — to some degree it’s a mental hack in and of itself. Studies have shown that feelings will follow decisions if we can push past the initial resistance we might experience to a task. Empathize with yourself in that moment of resistance, but then forge ahead! You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that when you “just start,” the rest will begin to fall into place. 

4. Amp It Up

The power of music. Not many things can energize up or dampen a mood like a good playlist. Studies have shown that music not only delays fatigue, but also increases physical capacity, improves energy efficiency, and bolsters mood! Push past that mental block and amp yourself up with rhythm-based playlists and apps. If music doesn’t suit you, pretend you’re in a movie and play fun scenarios in your head, no one said running couldn't be imaginative!

5. Treat Yo’Self

Who doesn’t love a present? Giving yourself a meaningful reward at the end of a run can be a great occasional reinforcement to keep yourself going.  If there’s a donut shop conveniently located a few miles away, run to it! If donuts are not your treat of choice, opt for a congratulatory green smoothie, iced coffee, or beautiful park walk. Only you know what you will work hard for, so use that treat to kick your low motivation to the curb.

6. Two’s Company, Three’s Motivation

For many, running is a 1:1 “zen” time. Howeve, if you feel your motivation waning it could be  a great time to add a running partner or join a running group. This sneaky mind-hack tricks you into responsibility, as the obligation of having to meet someone (and the guilt of canceling last minute) will help to keep you accountable.

7. Be Patient 

Potentially the least popular tip on this chart — but patience is crucial for progress. With any goal there will be a period where it seems like you’re going nowhere. Researchers have named this the “Plateau of Latent Potential.” This is a time of pure effort-investment, where you’re putting in the work but not seeing many results. The good news? It’s completely normal. Take heart in knowing that your work won’t be wasted if you do not give up.  

Like many efforts, the sport of running is a marathon (we love our cheesy jokes), not a sprint. Within every stage of training it’s important to not lose heart. There will be good weeks and bad weeks, tough days and ones where you feel like you’re running on air. Ultimately when the rubber meets the road (forgive us), the bottom line is to stick with it — and be kind to yourself!