Sometimes you’ve got to go through hell to get to heaven

Here are some simple mind tricks that help to get me through hard/long runs.

On any run, no matter what length it is or the level of runner you are there will always be a moment when you have that little element of doubt, that feeling that you’ve went out too fast or that you want to pack it in.

This should be true of all races as you should really be pushing to your maximum levels to achieve the best results.

Every race that I do I think at some point that I will just pack it in and head home, its too hard, ive gone too fast and I dont want to feel like this anymore.

That surprises people sometimes and its hard to see what the attraction is but ill try and explain.

I had a 5k race in Edinburgh last year, it was one lap around Arthurs Seat, a hilly course but scenic. I aimed for a time of sub 20mins, it was ambitious given the elevation on the course. I set off running 5 min 36 second per mile pace and half way up the hill blew apart. I was in first place but was soon overtaken by and slipped into second.

As I reached the top of the hill I thought my heart was going to burst and that I would collapse at any minute. The desire to give up and go home was all that I could think of. Somehow I had to rid myself of the negative thoughts.

Here are a few ways in which I did this…

1. Visualise the end

2. Think of the downhill

3. Think of previous runs up this hill, especially when I was just beginning racing and had just given up the cigarettes. Comparing where I was now to where I had come from would surely motivate me to the finish.

4. Break it down into whatever kind of manageable section you can digest.

5. Fix your eyes in front and let them go into a daze, block out all around you and concentrate on breathing.

6. If your behind someone try and stick with them, match their stride, its amazing how long you can keep going when you focus on the person in front. “If he can do it then so can I” I used this mentality at a recent Ultra in Aberdeen, a 66 year old man was in front of me in the race!

7. Give yourself a talking to, out loud if you have to, ive seen myself running hard and swearing at myself for being so weak, push it out and keep mentally strong.

8. Music – Not something I really listen to on runs but if your into running with it playing then that can help block out the pain.

There are many more, what are your tricks for getting through a rough patch??? Its always interesting to hear what motivated other people to keep going when the chips are down.

I finished that race in 3rd place in 19minutes 49 seconds, I felt like hell as I crossed the line but 5 minutes later all I was left with was a feeling of satisfaction that I had given my best and overcome the doubts.

You can use these experiences to pull you through every challenge you face. “I did it once i can do it again, or better it.”

Hope this has been useful information.

Please comment, id be really interested to have your thoughts and if you dont feel pain either mental or physical during a race your not trying hard enough!

“Sometimes you’ve got to go through hell to get to heaven.” Dean Karnazes

The beer at the end also helps

About Mark Cooper

My name is Mark Cooper, I am an ultra runner, motivational speaker, expedition consultant and public relations rookie. I help people achieve greatness in their lives. For bookings or more information you can email
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7 Responses to Sometimes you’ve got to go through hell to get to heaven

  1. Mark Woodhall says:

    Good post Mark. I like the letting your eyes go into a daze one. I’ll have to try it. I sometimes break the run down into manageable sections. Just getting to the the next lampost etc, anyone can make it a few hundred meters. Typically I do this towards the end of a long run, when the legs are hurting a bit.

  2. Sean Casey says:

    Thank god I’m not the only one who feels like this!! Felt this on Sunday doing Liverpool half marathon between miles 10-13. Do some of the things you mentioned-block everything out/focus on runner in front. I also just think one foot in front of the other and that I have to get to the end one way or another and that running will get me there quicker than walking!!

  3. Suze says:

    Thanks – I def think the breathing in point 5 helps – if you can try to relax when you breathe out it is amazing how you can then refocus on your running form – and get back on track when you’re going through a bad patch!!

  4. poeticruse says:

    I sometimes think about things that I let myself have, because I run, and I mentally start listing them as ‘hostages’ against a successful run, planning to revoke them if I wimp out. Pizza once a month, Sleeping in on Saturdays, peanut butter on toast, coffee each day.

    By the time I get to coffee, usually my body is willing to listen to reason. I have yet to have to execute any of the ‘hostages’. Though pizza has had a close call a couple times.

  5. Jules_perox says:

    I enjoyed this post Mark, as I do most of them. your plea at the end leads me to comment for the first time though!
    I feel with nearly all of my running that its not the running that I enjoy but the stopping at the end. but that is the point – ‘at the end.’ Not anywhere in the middle…
    I’m training hard for a hopefully more successful marathon at the moment. When thats done I’m turning my thoughts towards my first ‘baby’ ultra. I’m aware that my mind set with running is going to have to change for this. It will be interesting to see how that works out!
    thanks for a great article..

  6. Robbie Britton says:

    Nice post. One method I’ve used in runnings Ultras, something I’ve discussed with other runners but would seem ludicrous if you tell a non-runner, is to run through nettles, create a new pain. Remember as a child punching someone in the arm when their foot hurt (That may of just been my sadistic friends), well this is the running equivalent and its got me through a couple of painful miles over the years. I wouldn’t recommend it for a 5k though, I just visualise the finish and look for someone in front to chase, concentrating on reeling them in, succesful or not, it keeps my mind busy and my legs churning.

  7. Hamish Williams says:

    I always seem to use number 6 in the second half of a race. I lock on to some poor, unsuspecting runner ahead and use them to drag me along. I’ve often wondered if the runner ahead knows I’m doing it.

    Poeticruse’s hostage idea could be interesting. “Pick up the pace, or the pizza goes bye-bye!”

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