For many, running is a way to keep fit, escape the rigour of daily life, and can be a deeply rewarding and even transformative experience! The joy of lacing up your shoes, hitting your favourite route, and, of course, the uploading your Strava summary onto social media, is an integral part of many lives. But what happens when the passion fades, and running starts to feel like a chore? Running isn’t just a physical activity, it’s often a mental challenge, and as with all challenges, they can be tough!

Enter the SLUMP.

Even the most dedicated runners can hit a mental slump, where motivation wanes, and the joy of running diminishes. This can be frustrating and disheartening, and despite may runners experiencing a period of demotivation at one point or another, few openly talk about the struggle. While we all joke about our friends never failing to remind us of their running stats on their Insta story, this can further compound our slump by making us feel that we are alone in facing the struggle to find the motivation to do what we love – “They seem to be having all the fun, how is it so easy for them to stay motivated?

Well, the good news is that it’s possible to overcome this mental hurdle, and this blog will hopefully allow you to get out of the rut and rediscover your love for running.

  1. Identify and Accept

Before you can effectively tackle a mental running slump, it’s essential to acknowledge it and then understanding what’s causing it. Accepting that you’re in a slump rather than fighting or denying it allows you to focus your mental effort into understanding the causes and allows room for self-compassion – understanding that it’s okay to feel unmotivated and that many runners go through this phase. Common reasons include burnout, lack of progress, injury, or simply a loss of interest. Reflect on your recent running experiences and consider what might be contributing to your slump. Are you overtraining? Are you bored with your current routine? Once you identify the root cause, you can take targeted action to address it.

  1. Set New Goals

Goals are powerful little tools that we regularly use in everyday life as well as running. But, used incorrectly, they can lead us astray. Sometimes, a mental slump stems from setting unrealistic goals, meaning we often feel useless as we cannot reach the goals we set ourselves. Other times, we may not set meaningful goals, meaning we lose sight of why you started running in the first place or contribute to a lack of direction.

Take a step back and reassess your objectives. Are they too ambitious or not challenging enough? Setting new goals, or even adjusting your current goals, gives you something to strive for and can make your runs feel more purposeful and rewarding.

Aim to make them achievable and inspiring. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Perhaps aim to run a certain number of days per week, enjoy a run without tracking time, or explore new routes. These goals don’t have to be grand or long-term; they can be as simple as running a certain number of miles each week, improving your pace, or even participating in a virtual race.

  1. Change Your Routine

Monotony can kill motivation. If you’ve been running the same route at the same time every day, it’s time for a change. Explore new trails, run at different times of the day, or try different types of runs, such as intervals, hill workouts, or tempo runs. Mixing up your routine can make running feel exciting again and can help you break out of your slump.

Try incorporating new elements into your routine:

Trail Running: Hit the trails instead of the roads. The varying terrain and beautiful scenery can reignite your passion for running.

Intervals and Speed Work: Mix up your pace with interval training. Short bursts of high-intensity running followed by recovery periods can make your runs more engaging and improve your speed and endurance.

Group Runs: Join a running club or find a running buddy. Socializing while running can make the miles fly by and provide a fresh perspective.

  1. Incorporate Cross-Training

Sometimes, the best way to overcome a running slump is to step away from running for a bit. Easy for me to say, but rather than stopping completely, try incorporating other forms of exercise into your routine. This can provide mental and physical ‘distance’ from running while keeping you active. Activities like cycling, swimming, or strength training can enhance your overall fitness and may even improve your running performance. Cross-training can also help prevent injuries and reduce the risk of burnout, keeping your running routine fresh and enjoyable.

  1. Run with Others

Many people may prefer to run alone. After all, running can often feel like a solitary activity. However, it doesn’t have to be! Joining a running club, participating in group runs, or simply running with a friend improves the social aspect of running and can reduce the seriousness one may place on their running, allowing you to enjoy it more. At the same time, running with others can provide greater motivation by increasing accountability – you are more likely to be held accountable to goals, and less likely to skip runs! Running with others isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but something to consider if in need of an uplift.

  1. Mindfulness, Rest, and Recovery

Running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Sometimes, a slump is your body’s way of telling you it needs a break. Ensure you’re getting enough rest and recovery as overtraining can lead to fatigue, injury, and in the worst cases, burnout, both physically and mentally. Listen to your body and allow yourself time to recover. A few days off can do wonders for your motivation and energy levels. However, taking a break from the physical activity doesn’t mean that you can’t develop your mental running skills. Practices such as mindfulness, visualisation, and deep breathing can reduce stress. Mindfulness, the practice of ‘staying in the moment’, can be incorporated into your R&R routines, while mindfulness techniques can be integrated into a pre-run warm-up or even the run itself to help stay present and focused. Apps like Headspace or Calm offer guided meditations specifically designed for athletes.

  1. Set New Challenges

Similar to your new goals, challenge yourself with something new and exciting. That race you’ve always thought of signing up to? Sign up for it! Always wanted to try a different type of running event, like a trail race or a Park Run? Try it! Personal milestones can be a fun challenge to strive for and ultimately achieve, providing a fresh sense of purpose and direction.

  1. Focus on the Positive, Be Kind(er) to Yourself

It’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, especially when things don’t seem to be going your way. So, making a conscious effort to focus on the positive aspects of your running by celebrating progress and successes, no matter how small, helps us to remember what you have accomplished. Reflect on the benefits you’ve experienced, such as improved fitness, stress relief, or the joy of being outdoors, and keep a running journal (even just a note on your phone) where you keep track of your achievements and positive experiences.

While some people find it hard to be kind to yourself, try to find a way to be kinder. Slumps happen to everyone, and it’s important to afford yourself some compassion. Avoid negative self-talk, instead focusing on positive self-talk, and remember that running is supposed to be enjoyable – and it’s okay, and even normal, to have ups and downs. Methods to be kinder include avoiding comparing yourself to others, reflect on how far you have come since you started, and focus on your own journey.

  1. Take a Break

Rather than place pressure on yourself to enjoy your running, or making yourself feel bad because you just can’t enjoy running even though you want to, sometimes, the best way to overcome a mental slump is to take a step back. This may be the ‘last resort’, which is perfectly ok, but if you’re feeling exhausted or unmotivated, give yourself permission to take a break from running. While to some this may seem like giving up, this doesn’t mean that at all; it’s about allowing your mind and body to rest and recover. A break can help you recharge and return to running with renewed enthusiasm – almost ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’? Celebrate your progress and remind yourself why you started running in the first place.

Now before I tell you to jog on, it’s important to remember that getting out of a mental running slump is not easy work, and requires a combination of self-awareness, creativity, and patience. Hopefully using some, but by no means all, of these tips, you’ll get back on track (see what I did there?) before you know it. Remember, acknowledge the issue, and remind yourself that you are not alone in this kind of challenge. Build a plan that works for you, and remind yourself that every step, no matter how small, is a step forwards in the right direction.

As always, I’d love to hear from you with your ways of getting over a slump in performance – whether you’re a runner, or from any other sports – and get in touch for 1-to-1 support. Happy running!