Often when I run by myself I end up just walking instead.
It's not physical. It's purely mental. It's extremely frustrating, because my mind seems to just forget why I wanted to run in the first place (to clear my head, or get a serotonin boost, or because I had too much energy) and decides to stop my body, and then I'm stuck walking back.
Tonight while running I got the urge to stop and walk about three miles in. I decided to focus on the feeling of wanting to walk to see what was causing it, and also as a way to keep me from walking.
I remember doing something similar while riding along the California coast on a bike. I had been taking short breaks every 10 miles, but I decided not to get off the bike just to see what it was like. It was extremely difficult not to give in and get off, but in the end I made it 60 miles without even stopping to pee, and the mental reward was tremendous.
The first thing I realized was that the desire to stop came when I was halfway into my run, and I knew I would have to start running back. Even though I was doing a loop and I wouldn't be retracing my steps, it was still in the direction of home. I realized that running "back" was a demotivator. It's really typical for me to walk when I reach the halfway point. Even if I were to decide to just run out and then take the bus back, I would probably still start walking halfway to the bus stop (wherever that was).
Everytime my mind would shift to think about being home or going home, I would want to walk. On the run out, I rarely think about that, but as soon as I start heading home I start to count the steps and look up to see how far away I am. Thinking about how much farther I have to run a real demotivator. In my ideal running state, I'm so lost in thought I barely realize where I am. But as soon as I look up and start to think "I have to make it past that stopsign and then run a mile down that road" my mind just wants me to stop and walk.
Running on trails is helpful because they twist and turn and don't give you good landmarks to go off of. The coast is similar, since the horizon doesn't serve as a mile marker. In both places I feel like I could run forever. Running at night helps somewhat too. The worst place for me to run is on a flat sidewalk or track in the middle of the day. There, you can't help thinking about how much farther you have to go, and it becomes pure torture.
I also realized that I wanted to walk whenever I thought about what I would be doing when I got home. This is especially true when I run before work or in the middle of the day, and I have to get back and do something boring. But it's also true when what I'm going to do is fun. I realized that's because it makes me think about how much time I have left until I get home, and when I think about time it demotivates me.
In fact, time is the greatest demotivator. Why do anything, when time will pass and make it irrelevant? Why run, when the time spent running is short and will be over soon? Why not just walk and take things slowly?
Sometimes to make myself keep running I check what the next mile marker will be, and decide that I have to make it at least to that marker. But that doesn't work 4 times of out of 5, and when it does work, it's because I've gotten lost in my thoughts again and forgotten that I set a goal at all. I used to be much more strict with myself about running. For eight years I had the same four miles that I would run each morning at 6am when I had to catch the bus, then at 7am when I started biking to school, then at 8am when I was in college. I enjoyed those mindless miles that I did as soon as I woke up. Maybe morning running is the trick to not stopping. Or running with friends. When I run with friends I don't stop because I feel ashamed of stopping. Also they distract me by chatting. But for long runs, my own mind is my greatest friend and distraction.
I'm not sure if there's a threshold of miles that I reach where suddenly I lose the desire to stop. Typically around five miles I start to feel good. But I've been struck by the desire to stop at two, three, four, and fifteen miles. Maybe the threshold is fifteen miles. Once you've run that many, you might as well just keep running until you reach your destination.
I wonder if I were to make a strict training schedule I would stick to it and finish my runs without walking. I kind of doubt it, and I suspect it might actually demotivate me.
Top 3 things I think about while running:
- Composing a blog post in my mind, usually about feminism or running.
- If I were a DJ and I were playing the playlist I'm listening to right now, what song would I mix in next, and would I be wearing?
- The art car I'm definitely going to build for Burning man next year