What to do when the voices of doubt creep in...

January 14th 2020

Taking a stride feels daunting. Everything feels laden and heavy. You're running on fumes.

If what I'm describing doesn't sound familiar, rest assured it will if you continue running. You're not 'really' a runner until you've found yourself face-to-face with the demon known as 'fatigue'. It pays all runners a visit. Typically accompanying fatigue are the insidious voices of doubt. 

Unlike a demon you'd encounter in the latest flick from Blumhouse, fatigue (and the voices of doubt) can never truly be exorcized. All you can do is get better at 'managing' them. Fortunately, I've got a few tricks for wrangling these demons. Read on...

How do you overcome fatigue when running?

1. Make things small. 

I was about 40 miles into my first (and only) 50 miler. My peripheral vision started to fade. My quads were completely destroyed. I was fading fast. 

The idea of logging a mile (let alone another ten) was daunting. I could no longer think about the remainder of this ridiculous project I'd signed up for. I had to break it down.

A mile was too much. So, I had to go smaller. I tried to lock in on the bush on the side of the trail about 100 meters ahead. I'd slog my way there. 

I'd take a deep breath and focus on the old, dying, leafless tree on the left of the trail (a stark reminder of how I felt) and drag myself there. I made things small. You do enough small things, big things happen. 

I (somehow) managed to get myself through those final ten miles simply by making things small. Make things small and you'll get to the finish line

2. Go to your happy place.

Managing fatigue during a tough run or race sometimes involves playing tricks on yourself. One that I like to play on myself involves visualizing my 'happy place'. I pull this one out usually when a single mile starts to feel like a stretch. This technique usually goes hand in hand with 'making things small'.

My happy place is Kezar Track in San Francisco. A mile never feels daunting to me here. On a sunny day, I could log countless, comfortable miles and never feel fatigued.

So, when the fatigue starts to possess me, and a mile becomes markedly taxing, I visualize myself at Kezar. I see myself running easy, comfortable laps on a sunny day perfect for running. 

This little trick always makes me feel better about getting through the next mile (or ten). Go to your happy place when fatigue makes its presence known. Visualize yourself running there, it's always nicer.

3. Self-affirmations. 

There was a SNL skit decades ago called 'Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley'. Stuart was known for being exuberantly (and irrationally) positive. He was all about telling people they were 'good enough, smart enough, etc'.

The skit was usually pretty silly, but Stuart was onto something. Self-affirmations can be helpful in a variety of ways. They can be particularly helpful when you're drowning in running induced fatigue.

When you find yourself neck deep and doubting you can persevere, remind yourself of who you are. Remind yourself of what you've done to prepare for this. Remind yourself of how many challenges you've faced and overcome. 

Rest assured, you are good enough. You are strong enough. You're smart enough. I'm also guessing (doggone it) most people like you. 

4. Find your mantra. 

When fatigue hits, the voices of doubt can get LOUD. They can tell you all kinds of self-defeating things.

You can't do it. This is too hard. You don't have it in you.

But, independent of using some self-affirmations, there's another way to deal with these voices. You can quiet them. You may be able to silence them entirely. 

I pull out a mantra. My go-to mantra is really simple. I just tell myself 'Focus and Relax.'

I keep repeating this mantra again and again. If I'm really focused on this mantra, the voices of doubt fade. Only the mantra remains.

The mantra keeps me focused on what I'm doing. The repetitive nature of the mantra keeps me relaxed. A quality mantra can help you get through the dark valley of fatigue and doubt.

5. Breathe.

It's hard to overstate the importance of breathing. We wouldn't be here without it. You certainly couldn't run without inhaling and exhaling, at least periodically.

Not only is breathing properly critically important in order to run in any substantive way, breathing can help manage fatigue. If you can manage fatigue, the voices of doubt are less likely to creep in. Even if they do manage to creep in, they probably won't be as loud. 

Simply put, I consciously focus on my breathing when I'm fighting fatigue. I consciously focus on getting my breathing under control. I try to take slower, deeper breaths on the inhale. I try to exhale slowly.

This technique may require me to slow down a bit. But, that's ok. Slowing down and refocusing on breathing for a minute or two is just what I need. 

I've found this technique acts as a 'reset' of sorts. My breathing slows down. My heart rate usually slows down. I relax.

If you're relaxed, fatigue (and discomfort/pain) is less pronounced. It's less present. So, are the voices of doubt.

If you can find a way to utilize some of the tips I've outlined above, you'll likely find yourself better equipped to deal with fatigue and the accompanying voices of doubt. If you get better at managing these two demons, you're bound to become a better runner. It's also quite likely you'll find yourself actually ENJOYING running more!

What tips do you use to deal with fatigue? Shoot us a note at runners@sportme.com and tell us.