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Breaking Out of a Slump 

As you read this, you may be in the middle stages of training for a fall half or full marathon. This is the doldrums time of training when it's hot, humid, and our motivation levels may rise and fall with the sun. Veteran runner that you are, you may still find yourself in this slump and find that it's tough to break out of. You may find that this slump lasts through several weeks of key training time during which you may not be moved to train at the intensities you need to reach your fall goal. So what do you do to break out of this?

After 20 years of running, and over that time encountering injuries, personal crises, job stress and 'slumps' described above, I've learned that to get back on track, I sometimes have to pull out all the stops and do a number of things to get fired up again. Rarely is it just one thing that shifts me back into gear.

Twice in recent years I've found myself undermotivated just before a marathon. I'd been training, but my head wasn't yet into the race yet. In both instances, work was too busy, I was overwhelmed with coaching runners and hadn't focused on my own impending race. So both times I did a 2-day program of constant focus on my race, visualizing my success, thinking about past race successes, listening to music that always inspires me, listening to motivating speakers (Tony Robbins, Dan Millman, and Peter Fonseca's 'Marathon' tape), packing my bag early, planning my route to the race, using affirmations, and chatting with other runners who were excited about their own events. Anyone who saw me driving to my races on those mornings would have laughed to see me singing exuberantly. But the focus worked both times for a 2:52 and a 2:56 respectively! From my own experiences of getting back on track, I've come up with methods that usually work for me, and though you may have other ideas, perhaps some of mine will be useful...
  1. Define what it is you're feeling... Loss of focus is often from being bummed out about something in your personal life... do you even care about your 'goal anymore... are you feeling lonely, ignored, unloved, stressed, picked on, upset, mad, or some other strong emotion... are you feeling burnt out (a sign that you may be doing too much exercise, or that you have too much going on in your life in general)... have you been injured for too long and is it eroding your confidence? I've sometimes noticed that I let events and people outside of my training impact how I feel about myself. This can have a domino-effect on other parts of my life, like staying motivated in running. You, too, could lose focus on work and your training. No matter what, define exactly what you're feeling and why it's there.
  2. Talk to someone about your feelings, your 'slump'. It's helpful to talk to someone whose judgment you trust, or who might ask you good questions to get you thinking about where you're at. Getting someone else's perspective or observations about your situation may, in itself, be enlightening.
  3. Cut back on your training (if 'overtraining' is your issue... you're burnt out physically and mentally!). If you relax more for a few days or even weeks, you'll get refocused.
  4. Get a training plan if you don't have one. A well-thought out plan keeps you on track and is easy to follow.
  5. Cut back on your other life commitments. If you have too much on your plate, you get tired, you start dragging yourself from job to activity to meetings. It may be affecting relationships with loved ones too, which could be causing you guilt, regret or upset. Again, relax more. Maybe you need a vacation or TLC.
  6. Remember past successes to get you 'pumped' up again. You already know what fires you up, you've just forgotten. Write those things down and read them with an idea of how they might work this time. Or, think laterally, by using past helpful ideas and changing them around to give you a fresh outlook.
  7. Go 'outside'. Are there books or movies that fire you up? I lost, then recently received as a gift, the book, "Flanagan's Run" by Tom McNab. It and the book "Marathon", about the Montreal Olympics, never cease to move and inspire me and I often read one of them before big races. Watching "Chariots of Fire" or "On the Edge" also works.
  8. Go 'inside'. Do you have any phrases, mottoes or mantras that move you to action? "Remember the Alamo" was the rallying cry for Texans to rise against Mexican troops. What internal things do you say to yourself to get you motivated? What do you think about? Visualizing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to 'plan' our success. It's like daydreaming where we 'see' ourselves running strong, fast and easily. We 'plan' for our own success by dreaming about it first. It's also effective during an event to help us get through it. Affirmations also help us shift our focus from negative to positive by their 'affirming' some aspect of our thinking and being more positive about ourselves.
  9. Hang around with positive friends and inspired people. Positive people help you see the good side of a not-so-good situation. Or you might just catch their mood enough to change your own.
  10. Help someone. Become a listener or sounding board to other people and your own problems might seem smaller than you'd originally thought. Support or encourage people at a race, or prior to an event, and you realize that you have a lot to offer, that you have the ability to make a difference to fellow runners. That, alone, is powerful and motivating.
  11. Do something spontaneous and fun! Sometimes the simple act of changing a routine or doing something fun and frivolous with friends can ignite our drive again.
  12. Laugh. Find people and situations to laugh with, or at. It may be at yourself too. Whatever, laughter is a potent 'magic pill' for pulling people out of moods or slumps. And remember, "If you're having fun, notify your face".
A psychologist at heart, Michael will be glad to listen to your running and life problems for a modest fee. Plus he'll throw in a mantra and a visualization just for the asking.
Michael Brennan        

Coaches Corner  

The articles, tips and comments here are the opinions of the authors who have years of running and coaching experience. Our comments are based on sound, sensible training principles recommended by top coaches and serious runners.

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