Is runner's guilt holding you back?

I have a 23 kilometre run in less than four weeks and I'm worried I won't be ready. By ready, I don't mean running a PB; I mean finishing the more-than-half marathon in a reasonable time, injury free, without looking like a spluttering klutz.

This niggling unease recently crept into my psyche following a busy couple of weeks at work and poor weather, making it hard to complete my training plan. Instead of feeling excited and prepared, I'm tense and doubtful.

Running slump

Friends have told me everyone goes through running slumps, so what can you do to come to terms with your slump, shrug off the guilt and not let your running goal slip away?

Michael Inglis is a sport and performance psychologist for the North Melbourne Football Club and director at The Mind Room, which runs six-week courses on achieving peak performance. He says a runner's mind can be their biggest asset, or their worst enemy.

"To maintain interest and enjoyment in running, as well as achieve set goals, elite and amateur athletes alike should look after their mental health as much as their physical health," says Inglis.

How guilt can manifest in runners

On the footy oval and at his Collingwood practice, Inglis works with a lot of sporting clients that are affected by guilt, especially when they feel obligated to train for an event and miss a week or two because life gets in the way.

"Guilt suggests we have something to be embarrassed or ashamed about and it can paralyse us or catalyse us into action," says Inglis. "If not identified and managed, guilt can directly affect your running and other areas of your life."

Three of the ways guilt can eat up a runner include:

1. Overcompensating


Feeling guilty for missing a few runs, you might try to make up the training by either running harder, increasing your distance or stepping up the intensity, which can lead to injury, burnout and further setbacks.

2. Avoidance

On the flip side, the guilt of not sticking to your running plan might make you avoid further training because you feel there's no point continuing. Inglis says this is especially true for new runners.

"Sometimes after the honeymoon period the pressure a new runner places on themselves to keep training reduces their enjoyment, and if they miss a few sessions they are at risk of withdrawing from the activity altogether," says Inglis.

3. Eroding self-esteem

If you're anything like me, running is part of your identity, and sometimes runners can be ashamed that they aren't living up to the identify they have created when they don't run or miss a few training sessions. At the extreme level, guilt can negatively affect your self-esteem, which might start to creep into your work or home life.

How to ditch the guilt

1. Goals versus performance values

Most runners are skilled at setting goals to help them finish a race, run a set time or accomplish a physical feat. While goals are important for achieving our running dreams, Inglis says answering the simple question of 'what am I running for?' can help runners avoid feeling guilty when they are unable to train.

For example, some people run to have more balance in their life. Others do it to improve their health and fitness or to stay in touch with friends. Having a clear purpose for why you're running will make missing a training session easier because it's not time-bound.

2. Prioritise

Thinking about where running sits in your list of life priorities can help you manage the expectations you set for yourself. Inglis says understanding how important running is compared to other aspects of your life such as family, career and friends makes accepting when you need to sacrifice a run for the other priorities much easier.

3. Mediate your goals

When you have to work late or something has come up at home and your hour-long run looks like it's not going to happen, try practising flexible thinking. This means instead of giving in to rigid thinking, and not training at all, adjust your training slightly to accommodate the change in plans. "A flexible thinker would say 'I can't go for my 10km run but I can do 15 minutes of sprints', and they will still get some benefit out of it," says Inglis.

4. Avoid using guilt-laden terms

Try to avoid using guilt-laden phrases such as 'I should', 'I have to' or 'I must' go for a run today. Inglis says the way we talk about running and training can affect us emotionally. "When people use an absolute term like 'I need to' instead of 'I'd like to' they are practicing rigid thinking, which can make it harder for them to respond positively when life throws a curveball at their running training plan," says Inglis.

How do you stay motivated? Let us know in the comments section.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

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