A Simple Mindset Switch for Long Distance Runners

Personally, I’m more of a fan of talking about empathy than I am apathy, but apathy might just be the trick to long-distance running.

See, the thing is, people have this very very strange misconception about running. They assume that long-distance runners find long-distance running EASY. This silly presumption would make me choke on an SiS gel but personally I actually prefer jelly babies. Anyway.

According to new research (I read an article that didn’t reference where the study had come from #sorryyy), a study has found that “apathy” – i.e. being ignorant to feelings of discomfort – can really help us get from start to finish when our legs (or heads) wanna give up.

The study took 24 healthy runners (age 18-33, who all ran 9 miles minimum weekly). They attended the research lab 3 times to complete 3 rounds of ‘vigorous exercise’. This consisted of a 90-min treadmill run while keeping a steady heartrate between 75-85% of their maximum. Pretty tough stuff. Take a moment to really think about that!

Before, during, and after each run, participants also completed a psychological exam so that the researchers could measure the difference in emotional output and expression. During the first trial, runners were given no instructions on how to complete the challenge—they were just told to run. For the second and third trials, researchers assigned various statements that support the “cognitive appraisal” approach to evaluate if the dissociated thinking positively affected their experience on the treadmill. Specifically, they were asked to adapt a nonchalant, detached point of view towards feelings of exertion or emotional buildup.

This “nonchalant, detached point of view” towards discomfort can also be coined “cognitive appraisal”. This is the process of identifying unpleasant sensations, feelings and emotions with an air of indifference, rather than attachment. It’s feeling the pain in the arse (literally) but not really caring to give it much attention.

When runners followed the “cognitive reappraisal” strategy, their “emotional arousal” levels were much lower compared to when they were given NO coping instructions.

So what can we derive from this?

That we need to chill the fudge out on our long-distance runs and accept that it WILL feel tough, but that needn’t affect our outcome.

This is obviously going to take a while to practise and implement, but whilst I am personally in the throes of marathon training I have plenty of opportunities to give this detachment a whirl.

Do let me know if this is an approach you have already adopted either as a runner, or perhaps even in other difficult areas in your life when the going gets tough!

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