How Do You Keep Running?

Posted by Filed Under: Inspiration & Motivation, Running Tips

When I first started running, 12 years ago, I ran one block. One block. Then I walked the rest of the mile I had routed out using the odometer on my car. I eventually worked myself up to completing that mile—at a pace of about 15 minutes per mile. At that rate, any dedicated walker could pass me. And they did.

When I first started running again, in 2004, I worked myself up to three miles in 30 minutes. It was my ultimate goal, and I ran three miles in 30 minutes, four to five times per week, for about seven months. It was the extent of what I believed I was capable of doing, and it was no small achievement for somebody who had lost nearly 100 pounds and who had never strung more than two miles together in a row.

Since that time, I have realized that I am quite capable of much, much more. I never thought I’d run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Until I ran three miles in 25 minutes. I never thought that I’d run more than three miles. Until I ran six. I never thought I’d run more than six. Until I ran 10. I never thought I’d run a half marathon. Until I did.

Hearing Voices

I’m what I like to call an “adult onset runner.” I never dabbled in cross-country or track during high school; I didn’t pick up jogging in college. I’m not a former swimmer, tennis player, or amateur ping pong champ. I played soccer when I was young and rode horses and motorcycles with my family, but believe me when I say that if I had possessed even a modicum of talent at any of those things, it was immediately crushed by my deafening lack of discipline.

All the voices in my head beat to the same drum, pounding out the rhythm that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t fast enough. I realize now that I was too scared to push myself. If I don’t try, if I don’t put in the effort and commitment required to make improvements, then I will certainly fail. And, when I fail, don’t I have a built in excuse? As long as I never stepped past my comfort zone, I could say, I never wanted that anyway. But to work for it, and still not get it? That would have been far too devastating for my fragile self-esteem.

No matter who you are, no matter where you are in your training, you will come to the point where you think you have hit the wall of your limitations. It doesn’t really matter if it’s running a mile in four minutes, or finishing a 10k in under an hour. It doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to run a mile or a marathon. At some point, you have to make the decision to do more than you ever thought you could. No matter what the voices in your head are telling you, when you keep going, something magical happens.

The magic is that the voice in your head shuts up. Maybe it’s drowned out by the music filtering through the headphones. Maybe it’s drowned out by the rhythmic pounding of your feet, the whoosh of your breath with every step. Quite suddenly, you may realize that it’s not drowned out at all. You can still hear it. You just didn’t recognize it because it stopped yapping about your shortcomings and now it’s a low hum, a buzz in your heart, and it’s saying yes. This feels good. I am unstoppable. I never want to stop.

For me, the moment doesn’t last long. It’s an elusive feeling, but when I have experienced it, it is in those moments that I have been able to completely change my long-held beliefs about my failings. There are days when it feels too hard, days when there’s not enough time, days when I feel sick to death of the mid-pack; but I keep running anyway. I keep running because it’s magical.


I want to start walking all the time, to be honest, but I don’t because I’m stubborn and because I want to run. That means I can’t walk. Other people have had huge success doing run/walk programs such as Couch to 5k, but my flow is to just run. I can slow down, but I can’t stop.

Not allowing myself to walk means that I am required to come up with ways to trick myself into continuing the run. One of my favorites is to ignore the urge to walk until I feel like I absolutely cannot possibly run another step. When I’m sure I can’t go on, I pick a spot up the street, or I start a new song on my Mini. I tell myself I can walk when I get to the spot, or the song is over, whichever one I’m using. This requires mental gymnastics the likes of which most normal people will never experience. If I let my mind dwell on what my body is doing, I become obsessed with stopping the run and starting to walk.

I focus on a variety of things to get me over the hump: I do math problems in my head. I pretend that I’m coming up on the homestretch of a race, finishing strong with my family and total strangers cheering me on. I crank the music. I put my head down and focus on my breathing. I pull my head up and take in the scenery. I let my mind wander where it will, the sights and smells of an outside run triggering memories. I practice writing about this accomplishment in my blog.

When the song ends, or I get to my spot on the horizon, it is clear to me that I was wrong! I could keep going—and I did keep going! So then I keep going some more.

And You?

I’m curious about what you all do to press on to your next level of achievement. I am a middle-aged mom of two. I’m so average it’s painful. Yet I’ve accomplished more, physically, than I ever dreamed possible. Doing that has made me believe that I have more accomplishments in my future; that they are there, for my taking. If I can do it, I believe you can too.

How do you keep running?

  1. Adeel on September 4th at 7:42 pm

    I used to take a lot of pride in not stopping to walk when I started running and I did that by running very, very slowly. I was technically running next to friends who were walking, but so what?

    These days, now that I can run forever, I find that it’s easier to keep going during an interval session or a tempo run by focusing on increments. If you’re running a kilometre repeat on a track, I’ll check my split at 200 to make sure the speed is correct, then click off 2-4-6-8 and get in a rhythm. I run tempos from destination to destination, often out-and-back, so I use landmarks to pull myself along.

  2. David Smith on September 5th at 2:32 am

    When the hurt starts I remember to when I couldn’t run, to when I thought I might not ever be able to run again (snapped thigh bone in motorbike accident) and then I think just how great it is that I am running, my pace might be slow, but I’m still running…. 😉

  3. Jeanne on September 5th at 6:27 am

    I tell myself that I’m gonna finish the miles if I have to crawl them.

    That generally (but not always) gets me going again!

  4. Linda on September 5th at 12:17 pm

    I started running by walking and because there was always so much to do I had to hurry so I learned to run. I’m still so far behaind I think I’m first so I just run to keep up.(sigh)

  5. Health Hacker on September 5th at 4:48 pm

    I tend to think about the times that I’ve been injured and frustrated that I couldn’t run. Then I think about how lucky I am to be able to be out there. It sounds simple, but it always works for me.

  6. Meg on September 6th at 4:30 am

    This is so new for me that I am still waiting for the voices in my head to shut up. That hasn’t happened yet.
    Love your ideas and really need an mp3.

  7. Mia on September 6th at 5:41 am

    These are great ideas! I’ve had some similar thoughts about how the time is going to pass regardless of whether I’m walking or running, and at least by running it will be over quicker. HA! There’s some motivation. 🙂

    The “attitude of gratitude” approach that HH and David mention has been particularly helpful to me as I struggle to get back after Boy Number Two. It all comes back to running because we can. Not everybody can, for lots of different reasons, so it’s not something we should take for granted.

    ps Meg, I can’t believe you don’t have an mp3 player, with all the running and biking you do! I don’t know how you do it.

  8. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on September 6th at 6:43 am

    Mia, I never run with an mp3 player. I have been hit by a car before, and I have no interest in getting hit again. I would rather have my attention on my surroundings than on some foreign control on my pace that can distract me into not following through with the goals of my workout.

    But that’s just me.

  9. brit on September 6th at 8:51 am

    Mia you rock. My trick is getting out of bed. If I can get out of bed…its all good for me.

  10. Mia on September 6th at 3:03 pm

    Blaine, you bring up a very interesting point. I don’t usually run where I have to worry about car traffic, but I know I’ve been hit on my bike (normal, suburban surface streets). I wasn’t wearing headphones, but I could see how that would have made it even more dangerous.

    I don’t totally get the jump to how music would lead to you not following through on your goals (unless you mean if you were injured from a safety perspective?) but I think you’re right that it’s definitely a “to each his/her own” kind of instance. The few times I’ve been *forced* to run without music, I’ve found it entirely refreshing and a very different experience all together!

  11. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on September 6th at 6:05 pm

    When you listen to music when you are running, then your stride will tend to fall into time with the music. Playing some easy listening can lead to slowing the pace down. Playing some heavy metal and you might speed up. I prefer to control my own pace without having any outside influences.

    I probably have a lot more experience running than a lot of people, though, and I do not find it boring in the least to just go out and run. It is one of my favorite activities; I do not need to be distracted from it.

  12. Mia on September 6th at 6:28 pm

    Ah, okay, that makes sense (about the stride issue, that *definitely* happens when a “happy” song comes on I really get hopping). I think you are absolutely right about having control over your pace; it’s just that I tend to run slower than I’m capable of if I’m not on a beat.

    You are a much more experienced runner than I am, and there are some skills you’re talking about that I just don’t have…yet. 🙂

    I would like to clarify, however, that I do not find running boring in the least. I love to run. I need distraction from the pain, not the run. If I were physically fit enough that I could run long enough and far enough to fulfill my desire to run, the rest of this wouldn’t be an issue. But, until I get to that point, I’ve had to develop some other strategies.

  13. Dawn - Pink Chick on September 7th at 4:29 am

    The voices stop??? But then who will I talk too…lol. Good stuff Mia.

  14. sabrina on March 24th at 4:15 pm

    i’m in highschool and i just started running. what i do is i count my steps and say okay i’ll get to 100..then i get there and say 200, and so forth. but if i begin to think about things i get distracted and start to slow down. whenever i get the urge to walk i just look at the ground and watch it go by really fast and keep counting. counting really helps me control myself.

  15. Nadia on March 27th at 12:28 pm

    I am a teenager and I run. I run an awful lot for fitness. (I play field hockey for my country.) When I started running it was really difficult and a chore. I was so bad at it . Now I’m fitter I can run 10miles (never tried more) and enjoy it!