Positive Mental Attitude

England international runner, Hannah Irwin, looks at the importance of staying positive…

Possessing a positive outlook on running and life in general is an important attribute to have. If we learn to look for the positives in all that we do, suddenly the world becomes a much brighter and more enjoyable place. When times get tough, a little bit of positivity can have some magical effects, both on yourself and on others.

That being said, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, and we can’t be positive all the time. It would be impossible and might even get rather annoying!

Negative thoughts can creep in at any time, in any place. When it comes to running these may come before you have even laced up your trainers, or arrive mid run. Most of the time you can’t stop them from developing once they have started, but it is knowing what to do when they do come that is important.

I have had times in the past where I have been unable to control my negative thoughts: So much so, they would override any rational thinking and I would convince myself I was too weak to run. It is important to not get into this position.

Negative thoughts are only natural, but employing tactics that help stop them spiralling uncontrollably can be monumental to your running. Running is much more enjoyable when you are thinking positively.

Positivity before or during a run

There are different approaches to dealing with negative thoughts, and maintaining a positive mindset, depending on whether we are deep into the hard stages of a race or run, or haven’t got out the door yet.

Pre-run positivity

Sometimes, just before you step out of the door, you might feel your mind turning against itself. If you can sense your thoughts beginning to do this, remind yourself why you run. Ultimately, it should be because you want to, or because of your pure love for the sport.

It might help to look back at photos or videos of yourself running, or of your favourite events to remind you of the passion you feel for running.

If I feel myself getting overly anxious before a run or a race, I remind myself that the only person I need to please is myself. This can only be achieved if I enjoy it, so there is no point in stressing out.

I also tell myself that I can only do my best, whatever that may be on a particular day. Our best is the greatest outcome, so we should be proud of whatever that looks like. Some days our ‘best’ is just getting out the door, but this is an achievement in itself.

Mid-run positivity

A positive mental attitude is especially important when in the toughest part of a run or race – the middle. This is when you might feel yourself getting tired and sometimes your brain contemplates giving up. But don’t!

Think of this point in a positive way. The fact we are able to continue working our bodies when they get tired should be celebrated. We are pushing our physical boundaries, therefore of course we will begin to feel tired.

However, instead of perceiving this point as a sign of weakness, think of it as an indicator of your strength; both mental and physical. Not everyone is willing to push their body by going for a run, so you should be proud of what you are doing, even when it gets tough.

Hannah Irwin running in a field


They don’t work for everyone, but mantras really can be influential in helping you tackle those overbearing negative thoughts, whenever they may appear.

A mantra is a repeated word or saying that is used to aid your motivation and focus. A lot of the time, you don’t have other people around to encourage you when running, so you have to motivate yourself.

Mantras tend to be employed when positivity and determination starts to dwindle mid run or race. They can range from sayings such ‘I can do this’ to single words you associate with feelings of determination and positivity. They can sound cheesy, but they do work.

In tough cross-country races, I write ‘I’m tougher’ on my hand. This reminds me that although cross country racing is tough, I am tougher. When I sense my mind being pulled towards negative thinking, I repeat this mantra to myself to regain my positive thoughts.

Change your way of thinking

When you are mid run, event or training session, it can be easy to fall into an unhelpful trail of thought. However, there are a few ways I work to tackle this which I find effective.

Rather than focusing on how much further you have left to go, focus your mind on all you have done so far. Instead of reminding yourself ‘I still have x amount of minutes left’, counter it by saying, ‘but I have already run for y minutes’.

Similarly, in training sessions, tell yourself ‘I have done three reps’, instead of thinking ‘I still have four to go’. This will help encourage a brighter, lighter way of thinking.

Additionally, take each rep, mile or kilometre on its own. Try not to think about the others you have done or the ones you are yet to cover. By fixing your thoughts on the present, this will stop negativity entering into your mind. This will make whatever run you are doing a lot less daunting.

Celebrate the little things

We all judge a ‘good’ run according to different criteria.

Some of us run for a set distance, some run to a pace, others run to time. Whatever it is, we need to remember to recognise the other factors that contribute to a run. Just because we didn’t hit the pace we wanted to, or we didn’t run as far as usual because we were tired, doesn’t mean we didn’t have a ‘good’ run.

There is always something to learn from a run or a race, no matter how you felt it went. For example, you may not have run as fast as your previous time, but you may have enjoyed it more – and that’s a bonus!

There may have been something you did differently that didn’t work, but you will at least have learnt not to do it again.

There is always a positive

Accepting negative thoughts

I’ve never forgotten some advice that was given to me:

‘Accept negative thoughts.’

We all have them, and they can’t be erased. We wouldn’t be human if we were positive all the time and no negative thoughts ever crossed our minds.

It is important to acknowledge that such thoughts are just your mind giving you warning signals. You can recognise them and say, ‘thank you for the caution, but have the positive strength to push them aside when you don’t need them to creep in – especially during a run.

PMA = Positive Mental Attitude

Going on a run is your time to escape and enjoy what you are doing and be positive. Trying out different techniques when negativity arises will allow you to see which do and don’t work. It may take a while, but don’t be discouraged; there will be something that works for you.

Ultimately, if you encourage your mind to think positively, rather than quickly jumping into a negative way of thinking, you will find yourself enjoying your runs more as well as the time outside of them.


Hannah Irwin, is an international runner, who has represented England over 10K and cross country.

Check out Hannah’s other articles for Lonely Goat Running Club and keep an eye out for more, coming soon.

Hannah Irwin
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