How do you keep going when all you want to do is stop?

I was asked a couple of weeks ago if I’d come along to a 24 hour running event and give a talk on mindset and motivation.

It was Endure24, the event where I’ve run 100 miles on two previous occasions, and the race director Chris is a good friend of mine, so I was quick to accept the invitation.

My running recently has been limited to one or two 4 or 5 mile runs with the dog a week, but I decided on Monday that if I’m going anyway I may as well ‘run a few laps’.

Today I want to share some of the simple advice I gave during my talk on the Friday night, to a group of about 50 people in the very final stages of preparation for 24 hours of running.

1) Anticipate and embrace the difficult questions

Nobody runs an ultra marathon and expects it to be easy. Most things in life worth accomplishing are going to have a few challenges along the way.

Not just the practical obstacles that we have to overcome, but the challenge of battling with those thoughts that pop into our heads and tell us we can’t do it.

They tell us that it’s too hard, question what the point of continuing is, and come up with some very convincing and logical reasons why you should stop.

If these difficult questions are to be expected, we can choose how we’re going to respond to them. They can be something to fear and worry about, or a clear signpost that we’re operating soundly in our ‘stretch zone’.

When you hear these voices of doubt cropping up, acknowledge them and thank them for trying to keep you safe, but then decide whether or not you’re going to listen to them.

Because you don’t have to.

2) Keep going out and you’ll keep coming back

This one came from a friend of mine Warren Pole, founder of chia seed energy gel company 33shake.com

Before my first crack at Endure24 he shared some of his own experiences with me, including this gem.

Because it’s a 5 mile loop, all you have to do is to keep getting out for another lap, and eventually you’ll come back.

Don’t worry about what’s going to happen in between leaving and returning, just keep going out and you’ll figure out what you need to do.

I’ve found this strategy instrumental in reducing the overwhelm of the task in hand. I don’t think about running 100 miles, I think about getting out for another lap.

3) Talk to yourself properly

If you tell yourself it’s going to hurt, that it’s going to be horrible and that you’re going to hate the hills, guess what kind of experience you’re going to have?

Choose your language very carefully.

Both what you say to other people, and what you say to yourself inside your own head.

A simple example of how I used this in the race was with the hills.

Ultra running is about efficiency.

And walking up hills isn’t just ‘acceptable’, it’s recommended.

Two of the biggest hills were called ‘Little Steep’ and ‘Heart Break Hill’.

Because I was walking up them, in my head they became opportunities to have a rest.

I renamed them ‘Little Snooze’ and ‘Long Lay Down’.

So every lap I looked forward to having a couple of nice leisurely breaks.

The mind is a powerful thing when you can engage your imagination and be mindful of your language.

Both in what you say to other people and also yourself.

Practical mindset application

Mindset is really just about thinking differently. But different thoughts bring about different actions, and it’s these different actions that bring about different results.

Try them on for size and see what fits.

I’ve read about and experimented with hundreds of things that haven’t worked or made sense to me.

But you don’t need to do it all to still make a difference.

On Saturday I implemented all of the above along with a number of other techniques I’ve picked up over the years, and ran 40 miles in just over 7 hours.

The mind can be a powerful force indeed!