Common Self-Talk Mistakes Runners Make and How to Fix Them

Proud Fail

The voices in my head are always yammering away during my runs.

Usually, it’s pretty innocuous. I’ll be listening to a podcast and have debates with myself about the topic, or I’ll add in my (imaginary) side of the conversation.

These voices also occasionally talk to me on the run. They give their opinions and feedback about how I’m doing. My voices are usually pretty nice, or at least they’re constructive with their feedback (Yo, Sara, when was the last time you unclenched your jaw? It’s getting a little tight up here! – is a common refrain on my runs).

But they occasionally go all Mean Girl and bitchy.

With years of practice, I’ve gotten better at recognizing negative self-talk and addressing it before it becomes (too big of) a problem.


Self-Talk Mistakes Runners Often Make

How you talk to yourself is so important. Your brain isn’t that smart. It can’t tell the difference between things you tell yourself and things others tell you (at least when you talk to yourself in the third person). 

Effective self-talk is especially important on the run since it’s often just you and your thoughts.

Use those thoughts wisely.

Common Self-Talk Mistakes


What It Sounds Like

Last year at this time I could run a 5k in 25 minutes. I’m so slow now!

My friend can run a half marathon and I can’t!

Why It’s Bad

There are so many variables to what makes a runner, comparing yourself to anyone else (or to yourself under different circumstances) is as effective as comparing apples to oranges.

How To Fix It

I fully realize this is easier said than done, but don’t.

Don’t compare yourself to where you were 6 months ago or 6 years ago or to what your running buddies can do.

When comparing yourself to yourself: Have the courage to be where you are. Maybe you were faster in college, but you aren’t that person now. Maybe you could run longer a year ago (training for a pre-pandemic marathon), but the world isn’t the same now.

When comparing yourself to others: Remember that everyone has a unique set of experiences, strengths and weaknesses.

Consider what they’ve done to get where they are. Are you willing to do those same things to get similar results? If you are going to look at others and get envious of what they can do, at least do it productively:

Upside of envy


“I Can’t”

What It Sounds Like

I can’t run without walking.

I can’t run up this hill.

Why It’s Bad

‘I can’t’ implies a fixed mindset where you can’t improve, change, or evolve as a runner. You need to have a growth mindset.

How To Fix It

Add ‘yet.’

As in:

  • I can’t run without walking, yet.
  • I can’t run up this hill, yet.

Then make a plan to improve.

Spiraling: Bad Run Edition

What It Sounds Like

This run was so bad! I’m a terrible runner, my race is going to be a disaster, I may as well quit now.

Why It’s Bad

There is an ebb and flow to running and training.

Some runs will be amazing, others will be terrible. There will never be a straight line of constant improvement without occasion setbacks.

How To Fix It

Look back at your training log – don’t forget your good runs and how far you’ve come from where you started.

Keep a list of accomplishments. Write down everything that goes well on the run and all your successes, no matter how small. When you need a pick-me-up, review your list and remember all the things you’ve accomplished.

Find at least one thing that is going well with your running. No matter how bad a run is, I guarantee something isn’t going wrong, though it may take a little searching to find it. Find the positive and appreciate it.

Read More
Terrible Training Run

Spiraling: Injury Edition

What It Sounds Like

My hip feels funny – maybe it will get worse – maybe I’ll have to take time off from running – maybe I’ll have to find a sports physical therapist for rehab – will that be covered by my insurance? – what if I can’t run the marathon I’m training for?

Why It’s Bad

Maybe it’s a problem. Maybe it isn’t.

Overthinking isn’t going to help either way.

How To Fix It

Acknowledge the feeling without the judgement or the story. Don’t expand on what something could mean, what it may result in, or judge it as good or bad.

9+ times out of 10 it’s nothing. It’s a passing sensation that goes away and never happens again.

All/Nothing Thinking

What It Sounds Like

I just can’t make myself do the 8 miles on the calendar today, I may as well not run at all.

Why It’s Bad

This is usually a result of one of two things:

  1. Talking yourself out of running, or
  2. Being a perfectionist or blind follower to a plan, without regard to the realities of life.

How To Fix It

Don’t quit a run before you start.

Just head out the door and get started. Set a turn around point about a half mile from the start. If you get to that point and still aren’t feeling it, give yourself permission to go home guilt free. This will get you over the hardest part of the run (getting out the door) without having to commit to the entire thing.

Adjust and adapt. What is the point of the workout you’re supposed to do? What other ways can you get that benefit without doing the particular run on the calendar? The world will continue to turn if you do an unstructured fartlek run instead of your super-specific track workout.


What It Sounds Like

I ran 12 miles yesterday and was exhausted. How am I supposed to run 13 miles next weekend or 26 miles in 4 months!? It’s impossible!

Why It’s Bad

This is especially common when training for an event like a marathon, where your training mileage keeps creeping higher and higher.

Looking at an entire training plan in one fell swoop may make you lose sight of the slow and steady progress you’ll make following your training plan.

How To Fix It

Consider only the run you are doing.

Don’t look ahead at your training plan and how far you’ll be running months from now. One week you’ll run 8 miles, the next you’ll do 9. That’s only 1 more mile! Easy!

Rinse and repeat for a few months and et voila! You’ve run a marathon.

You’ll get to the finish line one run, and one mile, at a time.

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