How Practicing Gratitude Can Improve Your Running

How Practicing Gratitude Can Improve Your Running

Every runner experiences bad runs. Stomach cramps, runner’s trots, muscle cramps, tired legs, allergies, exercise-induced asthma, and lack of motivation are only some of the causes that can make us what to stop midway through a run and call it quits.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure my stomach hates me (and, from reading other blogs, it seems like many other runners experience this as well). The temptation arises to let those awful runs full of stomach cramps ruin the day, make me hate running, or discourage me from my goals. Likewise, it’s tempting to let a tough run cause despair on our training, to quit because a run doesn’t feel good, to lament and whine because we give so much to running and sometimes it doesn’t seem to give back.

I’ve seen these tendencies in myself: the upset after a bad run, the discouragement after a missed goal, the dark night of marathon training. But that’s not a healthy place to dwell, nor is it conducive to achieving goals. Rather, I wish to expel these tendencies, to shift my mindset towards one of gratitude, even when running literally or figuratively goes to sh*t.

Gratitude, for me, has become key to endurance running, and I invite you to adopt an attitude of gratitude and see how gratitude can improve your running. 

How Practicing Gratitude Can Improve Your Running

Because, even with stomach cramps, even with calf cramps, even when I’m tired both mentally and physically, I still have the gift of running. I have two legs that work in coordination to swiftly move me forward. I’m running for sport, for recreation, for joy, not for fear of my life.

I can’t dispel the images of Syrian refugees from my mind’s eye. I won’t share them here, because the depiction of others’ suffering in media is a sensitive and complicated issue (if you haven’t, you really should read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others), but I’m sure you’ve seen them.

The other day, when my calf cramped, my stomach hurt, and my mind and body both felt tired, I wanted to quit halfway through an easy 8 mile run. I was running a loop close to home, so quitting would have been rather easy. But those images flashed through my mind. Shut up, I told myself. You’re experiencing a little discomfort while doing something you love. Don’t complain. Be grateful and endure.

Since then, with each run where the urge emerges to quit for some reason or another (marathon training fatigue, most of the time), I hold onto a thought of gratitude. I get to run.  No one is forcing me to do this; I do it on my own accord. I have new shoes on my feet, specially designed running clothes on my back, safe neighborhoods and trails for running, and plenty of food with which to nourish my body afterwards. It floods me with gratitude to ponder these things, and that gratitude carries my legs for many miles more.

Endurance is most certainly physiological, but I also believe it’s highly mental. I’m not alone nor unjustified in that thought; it’s one of the dominant theses in Dr. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running. Your brain often succumbs to fatigue much earlier than your muscles do. In endurance sports, you need a deep and meaningful reason as to why you want to finish the race. Simply because all of your friends are doing it or you want to brag about it on social media is not sufficient to overcome those moments when your mind begins to tell you to quit, to slow down, to go gentle into those final miles.

Gratitude can provide those deeper reasons. A gratefulness for health, for stress relief, for accomplishment, for supportive spouses, family, and friends, and for ability all can keep us going in those tough miles. When your mind suggests you should quit because your muscles are tired, remind yourself that you are grateful you get to run. Thus, gratitude will suppress the mentality that often hinders distance running and allow you to keep enduring and moving forward strong.

In terms of sports psychology, gratitude can be key to overriding negative self-talk and emphasizing positive emotions during a race. As stated in this article from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley in California, gratitude augments positive emotions. Gratitude makes us appreciate something, such as running, and this appreciation bestows value upon it. You notice the joy of running more when you focus on your gratitude for it.

How Practicing Gratitude Can Improve Your Running

Gratitude also inhibits negative self-talk and emotions during a race. Ever get passed by a faster runner and begin to mentally berate yourself for not being that fast? Envy and gratitude are two opposing emotions. You cannot as easily be envious and fall into the comparison trap when you practice gratitude. If you focus on being grateful for the very fact that you can run a marathon, when other people’s physical, mental, or socioeconomic limits prevent them from doing so, you’re less likely to berate yourself for not being as “fast” or “good” as other runners.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a priest at my graduate school. He recommended listing five things each day that I was grateful for, no matter how trivial. This is an effective way to practice gratitude while running. Whenever discomfort sets in or you don’t even have the motivation to get out the door, list five things about running that you are grateful for, even if it’s just how wonderful a hot shower feels after a run or that you like your new running shoes.   

Questions of the Day:
What are some things you’re grateful for right now, both in running and beyond?
What mental tricks do you use to override the urge to quit and negative self-talk during a run?

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17 Responses

  1. Because I have dealt with injuries so much over the time I have been running, I am usually grateful for being able to run healthy. Each time I have come back form an injury I have a new appreciation for being out there. I actually need to work on my mental game now though (pushing through when things get tough) because over the past few months I have give myself alot of excuses around it, and this became more noticeable in races recently. I worked on this alot last year and my racing improved.

    1. I remember after my injury how grateful I was to run even a mile – it really does shift our perspective. That mental work is definitely paying off for you – you have run so many strong races lately and I really think you’re on your way to a marathon PR!

  2. I think gratitude for running is something that I have really learned and applied during my running and training. I’ve had various injuries and health issues that make me literally thankful for each mile that I put down. That doesn’t mean that every run is easy, but it does mean that I am always thankful.

    1. Yes, exactly what you said! Miles can still be rough (because let’s be real, there are as many bad miles as good miles in running) but that doesn’t mean we still can’t value and enjoy them.

  3. For sure it’s these tough runs that boost us mentally and prepare us for the challenges of racing. I had a tough run this morning where my legs were dead and 6 miles seemed so long and hard but I didn’t quit. I reminded myself that getting through these runs, which I am more than capable of, only make me stronger, especially for race day.

    1. Isn’t it weird how easy runs can sometimes feel the hardest? Congrats on pushing through and getting that hard run done – that will definitely pay off both mentally and physically for you on race day and beyond!

  4. Gratitude is a great perspective to keep at hand. It is easy to get swept away in complaints and concerns. However, to be able to look at the bigger picture and realize how fortunate we really are puts things in perspective. It doesn’t lessen our problems or negate their significance in our personal lives, but it does make it a bit easier to move on.

    1. Yes, definitely! Even looking at the bigger picture within our own lives can help – how much difference does a single bad run make in light of all of our own accomplishments and dreams? Not much at all.

  5. Gratitude helps with everything. It changes everything. It’s a broad statement, but it’s true! When I ran my first marathon in 1998, my nephew was born and nearly died. He was hanging on in the NICU and I ran it for him. Now, 17 years later, I still run for him. He’s disabled (from the lack of oxygen during his traumatic birth) and he can’t walk, talk, etc. He’s in a wheelchair. So if I am struggling through a run and want to quit, I run it for him.

    1. Every time you mention your nephew on your blog I tear up, and I didn’t realize it was that scary at the start of his life. I love that you run for him. It can be simple to say that we give more to disabled people, but really, sometimes, it seems like they give as much to us, just in less tangible ways. And that’s how life should be, where we all give, right?

  6. Great post! I think this is something we all strive for but let’s be honest – we all need this reminder sometimes. Especially when you are chasing a particular goal and naturally become a little tunnel-visioned, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture and lure yourself into a place of negativity.

    I always think of this one time, over a year ago now, when I was out for some random run and I was about to pass a woman in a wheelchair. I thought nothing of it, as I’m more than used to people ignoring me as I’m out running but to my surprise, the woman looked at me and said “you’re doing a great job!” Another time I was out on my long run and a man was watching me as I ran past. He looked like he was about to say something and I was bracing myself for it to be something unwelcome, but he said “great job out there!” or something and actually looked genuinely proud of me.

    It was humbling for me, to encounter the type of person who sees someone doing something they can’t do and their first instinct is to be genuinely happy for that person. The epitome of selflessness. We should all strive to be more like that man and woman.

    1. Thank you! I agree – I know I always need the reminder, especially when I get focused on big goals! People like that man and woman teach us all the value of selflessness – about being genuinely happy for someone rather than jealous!

  7. 1. So excited I won the cook book! Can’t. Wait.
    2. I’m so grateful for being able to run. When I’m sick I often times tend to be limited in my distance, so any run, stop free, is a run to be grateful for! And I’m doubly grateful for having a strong supportive family and boyfriend. I really don’t think I could handle lifes bumps as well as I try to without them.

    1. I can’t wait for you to get the cookbook! I’m excited for you! Having a strong and supportive family and significant other is truly a blessing, isn’t it? I don’t know what I would do without them!

  8. Great post! Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated during a tough long run, but you’re so right! I need to be way more grateful that I’m able to do what I’m doing. I love running and I need to remember that even when it gets tough!

  9. Hi Laura!!

    This post is spot on!! My brother and I run a blog called Live Gratus where we promote healthy living and a healthy mindset! Would you mind if we shared this post? We would give all credit to you and a link to your site!!


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