7 Ways to Keep Running When You’re Tired

The struggle to keep my running motivation going has never been more real than as a Mother Runner. When racing in high school, my father (once a Marine, always a Marine) would shout a familiar Marine Corps running motivation mantra—“Pain is temporary! Pride is forever!” It helped me to keep moving then. But now as a Mother Runner pulled in many directions, I’m often exhausted before I even put on my running shoes.

I need to up my mental game. I’m not alone. Thankfully, many Mother Runners have found self-talk and Jedi mind tricks to help them push through tough races and workouts. It’s no wonder they work. Stuart Smalley was onto something when he told himself repeatedly, “I am smart enough. Good enough. And doggone it! People like me!” A small study found that cyclists who used positive self-talk lasted 18 percent longer than those who didn’t.

Here are the best tricks that us mamas use to keep on keepin’ on:

Get crazy.

7 clever running motivation hacks
There are ways to trick your brain into ignoring pain when you’re running and the going gets tough.

It’s the last thing many of us would think of doing but acting a little weird when we want to quit can be quite the motivator and distraction. Erica, a sub 3-hour marathoner Mother Runner, admits she acts “nutty” when she’s hurting during a race. She yells and gestures to the crowd to get them pumped.  She feeds off their energy. And, it reminds her why she’s there—for fun and friendship.

Break it up.

If there is a resounding answer from Mother Runners to what works when trying to push through—it’s breaking up what lies ahead. This can be as much as the last 10k in the marathon or as little as the next beep on your watch. Tell yourself you can do it and just focus on that next bit. Take it one step (or watch beep) at a time.

Think of others.

Olympic Trials qualifier Gina thinks of someone in her life who’s struggled and persevered. For her, that’s her dad who can’t run anymore because of a stroke. She runs for him. And, she runs for her three girls who are waiting for her at home or the finish line. She tells herself to finish strong for them.

Related: How this mother runner ran through chemotherapy

Think back.

When the going gets tough in a race, I think about all the hard work I put in for this moment—the track workouts, the early mornings, training in the elements, dietary changes. The hay is already in the barn. I just need to dig in to get it.

Find a running motivation mantra.

Pick one phrase that pumps you up or reassures you. It could be as simple as “You’re doing great,” “You’re strong,” or “Run relaxed,” zone out and repeat it over and over. I also like to pick a lyric from a song. Lately, it’s been from The Strokes’ Reptilia, “please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast.” Take your eyes off your watch and stop obsessing oversplits. Instead, repeat this rhythmic mantra and let your body do its thing. (Get a list of awesome mantras here.)

Explore your virtual reality.

Whether racing or in a workout, visualize your race finish. How great will you feel to be done with the race and the training? How rewarding will your accomplishment be? Who is there cheering for you? Or take it to the extreme and think of anyone you ever cared about being there and witnessing your success and commitment.

Related: How this mom mastered self-talk to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon.

Practice self-compassion.

Rebecca, a health and wellness coach and sub 3-hour marathoner, reminds herself to give herself grace. “Life is stressful, busy and I’m tired sometimes! Our bodies notice,” she says. “So, when a workout isn’t going the way I’d hoped, I put forth what I have that day, finish the workout and know the effort is better than not doing the workout at all. I try to remember one workout (or race) does not make or break anything, so there will always be another one to push if it just isn’t happening.”

The other day I had my first workout of the year in the heat. It was tough, I wanted to quit. I fixated my eyes ahead, off my watch, and told myself that I was strong, fast, and tough—and the quicker I ran, the sooner I’d be done. It worked.


4 thoughts on “7 Ways to Keep Running When You’re Tired”

  1. These are great! As a “cruiser”, I admit that I don’t push myself very hard because my goal is to enjoy it, but I also recently have been liking feeling “fast” (for me that is an 11 min mile instead of a 13 min mile!) So I’m excited to use these tips to work on my speed next year!

  2. Great tips! Thank you for writing this. I’m a second time mom and running again pushing a stroller. It definitely feels harder, I thought I was really unfit as I am running at least a minute slower than my normal pace.

    • I’m so happy you are returning to running! Stroller running is a beast! Definitely best to go by effort & not by pace! Not apples to apples! Let me know if you have any questions along the way ☺️


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