When I very first started running every session would go the same way. I would drive down to a local cycle path and jog slowly for about fifteen or twenty minutes before my head started to tell me this was really hard work and I needed to stop.
I would be puffing hard and despite wanting to push through it I would fold under the pressure of my negativity. It was years before GPS running watches and I had no real idea how far or fast I had been running, but my brain told me it was far enough. Looking back now I know it was less than two miles.
It took me a while to break through that mental barrier, but once I did I discovered that actually beyond that point the whole thing got easier. My body warmed up, my heart and lungs had caught up with what my legs were trying to do and settling into a rhythm I found I could run much further than I thought possible. The battle was entirely in my head.
The relationship between what our bodies are capable of and what our heads will allow us to do is a complex one particularly when it comes to running. At whatever level you run the battles are the same: getting out of the door in the first place; running faster; running further - they are all issues affected by negative thinking and our mental endurance.
Sometimes it means just keeping your head down and relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other, and occasionally it might require stopping to have a quiet word with yourself, taking a deep breath and pushing on again. Either way, being capable of dealing with the constant thoughts telling you to stop is essential.
Being able to control your internal monologue to enable you to keep running when things get tough is one of the more difficult parts to running. Some people would argue it's even more important than physical fitness. Learning how to manage negative thinking is critical at the best of times, but when your mental health breaks down it becomes even more important.
But after learning to deal with all the mental challenges my running had thrown at me so far even after stepping up to run ultramarathon distances, being hit with severe depression meant things took a dark turn. Not only my running, but life in general. An indescribable sense of hopelessness made feeling anything impossible and I became numb to life.
After some time, and with help and support, I found my way back to running. Exercise is often seen as a good way to clear your head and to help you feel better about yourself, and for me that was absolutely the case. There are still the same issues to overcome in terms of believing in your own ability and having the confidence you can pull off what your legs are attempting, but I found positive thinking, support and friendship helped me through the tough times.
One of the lessons I learnt from my experiences was that often the biggest battles are the ones you have with yourself. Recognising that allowed me to move forward and to take on even bigger challenges such as running through the highlands of Scotland, the mountains of Gran Canaria, and taking on my ultimate goal of running 100 miles across England. It was a turbulent journey and one that touched on all areas of my life.
I wrote about it all in my new book, Still Not Bionic: Adventures in Unremarkable Ultrarunning. It's a story about how your own mind can turn against you and how you can deal with that. Yes it's about running, but it's also about friendship and adventure, but more than any of that it's about life and how to live it.
Still Not Bionic: Adventures in Unremarkable Ultrarunning is published by Tangent Books and is available in paperback and in ebook format (in all common ebook stores).