MARATHONER AND FOUNDER OF ‘TOO FAT TO RUN UK’, JULIE CREFFIELD SHARES HER JOURNEY TO OVERCOMING NEGATIVE SELF TALK AND SELF-SABOTAGING BEHAVIOURS.
People are always impressed when I tell them I run marathons. This is in part because marathons are a pretty impressive distance for any runner, and secondly, because at five foot eleven and a UK size 18 I don’t particularly have the frame of your traditional long distance runner. You could say that I am a walking, talking, and running example that there is no ‘right’ physical frame for distance running, just the right frame of mind.
‘How do you keep going for all that time?’ is often what people want to know. People are amazed that I can keep running for 6 hours straight, but they don’t understand that the most difficult thing I have had to learn as a runner is not how to train my body but how to train my mind.
When I first started running properly over ten years ago I could barely run for 30 seconds at a time. Part of this was fitness and muscle tone, but often it was because of something going on in my head. My own limiting beliefs about what I could achieve, or negative thoughts about people looking and laughing…even if there was rarely any evidence of this.
“I still have so far to go!”
The free flowing narrative that played out in my mind was horrific
“I can’t do this, I’m too bloody fat.”
“Everyone’s watching me.”
“Why am I doing this?”
“There’s got to be an easier way!”
“I hate running.”
I realised quite early on if I didn’t do something to tackle the voices in my head my running career would be pretty short lived. Looking back over the years I think its fair to say that I have been through 4 key stages of negative voice management, and although I think I have them under control right now, you never know when they might resurface again.
Here are the four options I figured I had when it came to combating the negative thoughts:
1. I could FIGHT them. In the early days it was a real battle of the wills. I would hear these voices loud and clear and allow them to basically ruin what could have been a decent training run. Often I would use them as an excuse to stop, or cut my route short and other times I’d complete my session but couldn’t say I had enjoyed it and would come home feeling deflated and dreading the next planned run. So I decided to try countering each negative thought, however found this to be quite a mentally taxing approach, particularly on the longer runs.
2. I could AVOID them. I figured listening to music might drown them out, and for a while this worked. I then became reliant on beats to get me through and if my phone ever ran out of juice or a race had a ‘no headphone policy’ I was stuffed.
I also get pretty bored with my music selection so moved swiftly onto podcasts and audiobooks. This was a great solution, because it enabled me to multitask, listening to books I never had time to actually read or learn about a new topic. The problem with this was I stopped listening to my body, and often got so lost in the artificial sounds I didn’t get the reflective more meditative moments where my mind could drift…and my runs almost were secondary to the finishing off of a book I was enjoying.
3. I could CHALLENGE them. Over the last year or so I think I have become much more of a spiritual person, and am really interested in how our thoughts become our reality. I’m fascinated by the triggers I have, and the limiting behaviours that often come out as a result. So I have found it interesting to start challenging these thoughts when they ruddy invade my brain space.
The last few miles of the Berlin Half Marathon was a prime example of this: the negative voice would say “Julie your legs are tired, you haven’t done enough training, just walk…everyone else is” and then I would tell myself over and over again “your legs are strong, you know you can do this, its only a little way to the finish line.”
“your legs are strong, you know you can do this, its only a little way to the finish line.”
4. I could EMBRACE them. I have realised that these voices in my head can be a useful tool for me to review where I am actually at with not only my running, but my life. Its OK to have a so-called bad run, or a training session where your head is not just in it, this happens to all athletes and in learning to cope with them you are becoming stronger and stronger all the time.
Our minds will play havoc with us if we allow them to, especially when we are undertaking something that is challenging our own (and others’) perceptions of what we are capable of. Each time we up our game and take our training to the next level we know there will be non believers and moments when even we question ourselves, but just like we train our glutes, quads and core to support us on our journey, the muscle that is our mind needs to be trained too.