When pain sets in during a hard run, everyday runners may think, “Oh crap, this already hurts, and I’ve got a long way to go.” These emotionally charged thoughts can have physical consequences – like tense muscles and an elevated heart rate – that cause diminished performance. But instead of panicking, the best runners (like the ones that Steve coaches) have in their minds what Steve calls a ‘calm conversation’, like, This is starting to hurt now. It should. I’m running hard. But it’s going to be okay. Being able to separate pain from suffering in this way also promotes recovery: research has found that after hard training, elite athletes’ heart-rate variability (HRV) – an indicator of physiological recovery – returns to baseline far faster than that of the average joe. This shows that elite athletes are able to transition from stress to rest better than their more novice peers.
When doubts occupy your headspace, practise calm conversations. As your effort and pain levels increase, don’t try to distract yourself or fight it. Instead, practise accepting it: remind yourself that the pain is a sign that you’re doing the work that will make you faster. After hard workouts, take a few deep breaths and use them as a cue to transition from the ‘stress’ of a workout to a more restful state.