I used to be a competitive runner -- my best 5k is 17:10. For years, I was able to train hard, push myself, and rarely felt like running was ever "too hard".

In recent years, running has become more and more difficult, but mostly mentally. I get discouraged by even the most mild discomfort, and take walk breaks often. I still run a decent pace -- and can sometimes run with ease. But I just don't seem able to push past the discomfort like I used to be able to. Then, I get discouraged and the cycle continues.

Are there some tricks I can try to get past these barriers?

  • When was the last time you set a running goal? A race, or event (Ragnar, tough mudder, etc)?
    – JohnP
    May 27, 2014 at 23:39
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    @missjgussy - It's not clear from question, have you had a break from running, and are trying to get back, or has this happened over a number of years? May 30, 2014 at 6:15
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    @missjgussy Could you add more details, please? This could be related to age. I knew someone who could punish his body with hard training sessions at age 17, but at age 24, he had to pace his training more carefully to avoid over-training and burn out. Details like that do matter. May 30, 2014 at 14:42
  • I am now 31. I'm also a single mom and work 50+ hours a week. I wonder how much of it is simply mental exhaustion and/or stress. After I had my son, I set a goal to run a half marathon and did that, running 1:38 about 8 months postpartem. Since then I've struggled to stick to training goals, push myself. Perhaps it is merely a function of age/new life stresses.
    – missjgussy
    May 30, 2014 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


I don't know the "correct" answer backed by research, but I'll share three of my tricks.

  1. Use other people as motivators. This can include actually running with another individual or a group, preferably running the pace you are striving for. If you cannot find a partner or group, you can find a populated path with other runners, skaters, and cyclists and chase them.

  2. Run a common route where you can begin to use landmarks as checkpoints, and instead of mentally wrapping your run around the entire distance, focus on each individual checkpoint and treat each checkpoint as a new run. I also like to mix this with a favorite album or playlist and use an individual song as my "mini" race. I start associating landmarks and songs together, and I get a good benchmark on my pace depending when I pass the landmark during a given song or playlist.

  3. Find objects on your running route that repeat, such as a fence or broken center lines on a paved tracked or less traveled road, and use them to get into and maintain a running speed and gate. Focus on maintaining the same number of steps for a given interval of objects you pass.

  • Thanks, Andrew. Good tips. I've always found it easier to push myself when I run with others. Perhaps I struggle without the structure of a team. I'll look around to see if there is a local track club I could join.
    – missjgussy
    May 30, 2014 at 15:24
  • @missjgussy I would add to this answer, try trails. You can get off the streets and onto trails (especially single track) you will find it 100% more fulfilling. I would also join a local run club and go on group runs Aug 23, 2014 at 12:43

It could be due to your vitamin D levels not being high enough. As pointed out in this article and numerous other articles, there is probably a link between having high vitamin D levels (calcidiol levels above 100 nmol/l) and athletic performance. My personal experience is that I have made great progress in improving my fitness levels after taking 10,000 IU/day of vitamin D. My calcidiol levels have been consistently above 200 nmol/l in the last few years and I've gone from struggeling to maintain a routine of running 20 minutes, 3 times per week to running 50 minutes, 5 times per week. My resting heart rate has gone down from about 46 bpm to 37 bpm.

  • Interesting. I actually had some blood work done last year and my vitamin D levels were low! I'll try this and see if it helps. Do you know what foods are naturally high in vitamin D? I prefer the real thing over supplements.
    – missjgussy
    May 30, 2014 at 15:25
  • Fatty fish contains vitamin D, but the problem is that you'll not get more than 1000 IU/day from food alone. The natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing part of your body to the Sun. This has to be done without putting Sun screen on otherwise the UVB light will be blocked. This means you should be careful to avoid getting sunburn. May 30, 2014 at 15:31
  • Well, i got plenty of vitamin D sitting out by the pool on Memorial Day. I also got a nice sunburn -- oops. Maybe around 15 sunscreen-free minutes a day is ideal?
    – missjgussy
    May 30, 2014 at 15:35
  • Yes, 15 to 30 minutes (depending on your skin type) should be ok. Where I live in North Western Europe, you need a lot more time in the Sun, and in Winter you won't get any vitamin D here (Sun is too low in the sky and it's too cold to get out without thick winter clothing anyway). May 30, 2014 at 15:54

This happened to me and could be the symptom of a physiological change related to poor diet which is manifesting itself as a lack of mental fortitude. I don't adhere to the pseudoscience of "finding" a motivation, because in reality your motivations today will quickly fade. For me personally, when I was heavily training for endurance this happened within a 6 month period. I completely lost mental fortitude and slight pain would cause me to stop or slowdown completely. It almost seemed like a physical depression.

I massively increased my post-workout carbohydrate intake, which consisted of around 4-5 large peaches and other fruits. This is essentially when I learned the importance of post-workout nutrition.

In my opinion it comes down to the neurotransmitters in your brain and the physical resources your body has, not a lack of motivation or fortitude.

Perhaps increase your carbohydrate intake pre and post-workout, or increase supplementation with vitamins and minerals.

  • Do you have any references for this?
    – JohnP
    May 29, 2014 at 14:30
  • @JohnP Are you referring to the importance of carbohydrate intake post-workout?
    – Michael
    May 29, 2014 at 14:35
  • No, ingesting carb/protein in a 3:1 ratio (Pretty much the ratio that is in milk) is well proven as a post endurance exercise supplement. I'm referring to your implied causational link between carbohydrate consumption and effect on neurotransmitters, and any link between carbohydrate depletion and loss of motivation.
    – JohnP
    May 29, 2014 at 14:47
  • Interesting. I've really worked to improve my diet as I've gotten older (31 now), but I know I could do better. Gone are the days of eating nothing but PB&J and coffee and running PRs! :) Although, I guess a PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk might be a decent post long run meal.
    – missjgussy
    May 30, 2014 at 15:23

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