Be Kind to Yourself

“Be kind to yourself.” That's the advice that one of my favorite coaches loves to give to endurance runners and walkers.

But what should this advice about being kind to yourself really mean to you as an endurance runner or walker?

I have some ideas that I want to share with you here, and then I want your comments, too.

As I write this, summer is in full swing — heat-wise — in North America.

For example, I plan to wake at 3:45 a.m. for an upcoming 15-mile group run here in Houston, Texas, because of this heat.

And I am noticing a disturbing trend these days among fellow endurance runners and walkers on Twitter:

They are beating themselves up in tweets about missing workouts — or cutting their workouts short — because of the heat wherever they live!

This verbal self-flagellation is SO unnecessary, and it can be harmful to your happiness as an endurance runner or walker.

And the recent tweets got me to thinking more about the “Be kind to yourself.” advice.

The Effects of Being Unkind to Yourself

There are two types of effects of being unkind to yourself:

  • Effects on you
  • Effects on others

The effects on you can include an immediate sense of unhappiness, future acts and thoughts of unkindness to yourself, and a downward spiral in which you repeatedly and increasingly beat yourself up (mentally, if not physically) for anything and everything.

The effects on others can include driving the “right” people away from you, driving the “wrong” people toward you, and encouraging others to be unkind to themselves, too.


Forgive Yourself!

I believe that many of us endurance runners and walkers stop being kind to ourselves when we are doing any of the following:

  • Being too competitive
  • Being too perfectionistic
  • Losing track of the bigger picture
  • Fearing getting behind with workouts

“Being too competitive” is not a complaint that most of us make about athletes at the tops of their games. We realize that top athletes MUST be very competitve to stay at the top, and many of us got into the sport of completing marathons, half marathons, or other endurance races at least partially because of our competitve natures. Plus, competing with oneself can be very empowering for growth. But anything taken in excess can be a negative, and that includes one's competitive spirit.

Being too perfectionistic can be debilitating, too. We want to do our workouts “just so” or according to a particular schedule from a coach, exercise magazine, or website, especially when we are new to endurance running or walking. We may even freak out when our GPS watches say that we covered 9.8 miles even though our group training program told us that our run or walk would be ten miles. Although it helps to pay attention to details while training for or competing in an endurance race, too much attention to getting the details “just right” is, well, simply too much!

Losing track of the bigger picture relates to perfectionism but it also can appear when we who lose track of long-term goals because of the in-your-face nature of near-term demands, pressures, and setbacks. For example, we can see sharp pains as permanent setbacks, or we can see them as our bodies telling us that we may temporarily have to take my more time to rest and recover. Losing track of the big picture is evident in endurance runners and walkers who ask themselves disabling questions (ones that the unconscious mind is happy to oblige with answers!) such as, “How could I be so stupid as to run without sunscreen yesterday afternoon?!”

Fearing getting behind with workouts is common among newcomers to any sport, but it seems to be especially common among both newbie and veteran endurance runners and walkers, perhaps because training schedules are typically very long and methodical — as in “Do this in week 1. Do that in week 2. … Do something else in week 26.” While it is true that most of us cannot train at the last minute to run or walk a marathon or half marathon, it is also true that a missed workout here or there has little to no effect on our overall success.

If you can learn to forgive yourself for these activities, then you can liberate your happier you.

Beyond this, you must…

Limit Your Whining!

The Law of Attraction says that we become what we think about — and that includes what we whine about!

It's worth separating whining into two categories:

  • External whining
  • Internal whining

External whining — or vocalized whining — is very easy to spot, if not in ourselves then at least in others. We all have heard “He [or she] whines too much!” about some runner or walker after a long group-training session. And we all know to stay away from that person on our next group run or walk unless we want to descend into his or her pity-party.

Internal whining — or silent whining — is more difficult to spot because self-awareness about one's thoughts is not something that most of us have been taught, but stopping it may be even more powerful than stopping external whining. Why? Because the self-talk of internal whining is corrosive to our unconscious minds, which consume our whines and make them unconscious rules to protect us from further hurt.

When we persist with whining about how badly a run or walk went, about how we had to miss a workout day, or about how we wish that things were better, we activate the Law of Attraction against us. This includes:

  • Attracting more thoughts — vocalized or not — that are whiney
  • Attracting other situations that prove that we are victims and have the right to be whining
  • Attracting other people — athletes or not — who are whiney, too
  • Attracting people who expect us to be unhappy … and who can get upset when we are happy instead!

So how do we reduce or eliminate the whining?

When it comes to external whining, you may want to engage your spouse, partner, or close friend to catch you when you whine — in other words, when you play victim — about your endurance running or walking. For example, my wife is very good at catching me when I start to whine after a “bad” run, and this can stop my external whining in its tracks.

When it comes to internal whining, you must rely on yourself to catch it. There are many techniques to notice one's thoughts. One of my favorites is The Sedona Method.

Skipping a Workout

So let's get back to what triggered me to write this article:

the many tweets seen recently about skipping workouts!

Look, I know that skipping an endurance workout can feel like the end of the world. I've been there and done that. But I also have plenty of finisher shirts that prove that missing a workout here or there makes no difference in the long run — at least not for most endurance runners and walkers.

Sure, if you are an elite athlete, then each workout may be absolutely crucial to your winning a race versus coming in second or not even placing.

But most of us, by definition, are not elite athletes. And I would hazard a guess that even elite athletes can — and should — miss a workout on occasion.

Sometimes missing a workout means saying no to the workout in favor of something more important, such as a child's or grandchild's birthday party.

Sometimes you may have to miss a workout because you need more rest, you are injured, or it is “too damn hot” (or cold) outside.

And sometimes missing a workout may be the equivalent of taking what the comic strip Bloom County once called a dandelion break.

Most important, missing a workout can become a necessity that is obvious, but only if you pay frequent and close attention to how you feel.

Your Mileage May Vary

You may have gotten other ideas when you saw this “Be kind to yourself.” advice. And I would love for you to share those ideas with everyone here.

What does “Be kind to yourself.” mean to YOU as an endurance runner or walker?

Please leave a comment. I would love to get your perspective!

4 thoughts on Be Kind to Yourself

  1. Hi Kirk,
    I agree with “Be Kind to yourself”. Training in humid conditions can be tough. The best way to alleviate those stressful or whining conditions is to do cross training sports i.e. swimming or other indoor activities for the short term. Just don’t forget the real goal and have fun doing it.

    1. Thank you, Ed. I like your suggestion of turning to other activities that can help you to avoid the heat or humidity when either of these is too high.

      I also believe that cross-training gives us extra resilience for endurance runs and walks that are in the extremes of weather.

      And I love your point about remembering the “real goal” and having fun doing it!

  2. Hi Kirk! What a great article and definitely a great time to read it. This heat can really be a downer and I know for me, I’ve definitely had to cut some workouts short due to the daunting weather. There are two things that really stuck with me – 1) Losing track of the bigger picture and 2) Skipping a workout in favor of something more important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run through nagging pains that only became way worse for fear of missing a workout. Well that set me back quite a few more workouts. And I’m the worst at sticking to my running schedule no matter the cost (BUT as of this week this is something I’ve promised to work on). So you are right – we must be happy with what we are doing and not let a skipped run bring us down on ourselves. We always have the next workout to look forward to. =)

    Happy Trails!

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