How to Beat Negative Self-Talk

November 5, 2015

You suck at running. You should just quit. You can’t do this. This is too hard. How are you possibly going to finish? There’s no way you can make it up this hill. What’s wrong with you?

Can you imagine if someone you care about said these kinds of things to you about your running? You would kick them to the curb with a few expletives and the possible use of an infamous middle finger, am I right?

So, why on Earth do so many of us talk to ourselves this way? I’d venture to assume that all of you have said something like this to yourself during a long run or race that was terribly challenging or when you were feeling slow or sluggish. I know I have.

I was talking to a runner this week who has been feeling really down on herself after two bad runs in a row. She has started to let that negative self-talk take over her mental outlook and define what she thinks she can (or shall we say, can’t) do during an upcoming race.

Negative self-talk is a dangerous thing. We all know that running is as much about mental strength as it is about physical strength. We have to re-frame that voice in our head, even if we’re just tricking ourselves with a mental mind game.

Beat Negative Self-Talk

The next time you talk to yourself like someone you would punch in the face if it wasn’t you, here are a few alternatives you can say to yourself to beat your negative self-talk.

Instead of … “This is so hard. I don’t think I can do it,” try …

  • I am working so hard.
  • I am challenging myself, and it is going to pay off.
  • I am earning my ____________. (ex. medal, post-run burger, massage, etc.)

Instead of … “I suck at running. I am so slow,” try …

  • I am getting stronger. This run is making me stronger.
  • I can do anything I set my mind to.
  • This is hard but I’m going to conquer it anyway.
  • What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
  • I am working to my full potential.
  • I am growing as a runner.

Instead of … “I don’t know how I’m going to finish this run/race,” try …

  • I can’t wait to cross that finish line.
  • It is going to feel so good when that medal gets draped around my neck.
  • This is a race/run that is making me stronger.
  • I am brave. Run brave.
  • I have more left to give.

In addition to re-framing the way you talk to yourself during a hard run or race, try these strategies to help reduce the negative thinking and mental agony.

  • Stop looking at your watch. Seeing a pace that disappoints you automatically leads to mental anguish and disappointment. Cover your watch, turn it off or flip it on the inside of your wrist and stop looking at it for the remainder of your run. Focus on your effort and how you feel instead of judging yourself by a number alone.
  • Give yourself permission to slow down momentarily. Sometimes when we’re really struggling, we just need a moment to get through the hard part of the mile before a good one appears. Allow yourself to slow down for a quarter mile or half mile until you regain your composure, steady breathing and mental outlook. You can get back in the game when you’re ready while giving yourself a short “break.”
  • Try incorporating some short surges into your run. To beat boredom, heavy legs and your negative mind from going on a complete downward spiral, consider doing several surges of faster running for 15 to 20 seconds at a time. It will provide some variety for your legs while taking your mind off the droning struggle.

What do you tell yourself when negative self-talk and doubt creep into your mind? What is the hardest moment of a run or race you overcame?



Great post! I’ve had all these thoughts at some point – both the bad ones and the good! It’s so important to have stay positive! The thing that helps me the most during crappy training runs is that reminding myself that no matter what I’m getting stronger, even if the pace isn’t what I wanted it to be.

The hardest moments in races for me are all of those final 6 miles of the marathon- the self talk really needs to be positive!


Jes, I love this post! It took me a while after I started running to embrace the inexplicably hard runs, and I always use the “this run is making me stronger” mantra. I love “I have more left to give” too!

I definitely agree with the advice about letting yourself slow down. I tend to strain and waste unnecessary energy when I start feeling bad, so I tell myself that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” It reminds me to relax my upper body and stop straining! I think adding surges would be a great thing to do after that! Thanks for the tips; I know these will be helpful!

Olivia Crew

Hi Jesica, I’d love to hear how your plantar fasciitis is doing after your 3 week break from running. Maybe you could do a post about what you’ve been doing to manage it?


Hi Olivia! Thanks so much for your note and the idea for a follow-up post. I will definitely consider that. I actually ended up taking 4 weeks off completely of running. During that time, I did a lot of workouts on the elliptical machine. I also saw my sports chiropractor once or twice a week (and continue to do so) who worked deep on my foot and my right side. Additionally, I have been doing this exercise routine daily or every other day to strengthen my right glute/hip, which is the actual culprit of the foot pain: I’ve been trying to focus more on stretching and rolling my calves as well, and walking around barefoot less (I just purchased some Kenkoh sandals I’ve been wearing during the day.) So how am I doing now? Well, I’m better than I was. I’ve run 14 easy miles so far this week (5 on the AlterG) and don’t have any pain while running. There is definitely still some tightness in my foot and it is not 100 percent, but I can run. I could run before too, but it hurt a little after. I’m going to keep on strengthening my glutes and hope that eventually it will be completely free of tightness. I’m also going to keep at it with massage and sports chiro, as my calves are so tight and are a major part of the problem. Here’s a post I originally did on some other tactics I was doing to help:

Sheena @ Paws and Pavement

Stopping negative self talk is so important because it can really make a good run feel bad.

Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

I love this. I’m the champion of talking myself down. But I have this awesome coach who won’t let me do it. She makes me do burpees when I complain or even apologize. And she told me that for every negative self thought I have, 10 burpees.

Pretty motivating!

Gabrielle from Austria

I’m so glad that your plantar fascitis has gotten better. Good luck furthermore!
I love this post! When I feel bad on a run or race, I remind myself that I would feel really worse with quitting it!


i may have had a few of these thoughts mid race on Saturday… :):) but i got out of it. good tips!

Christine @ Love, Life, Surf

love this advice Jes! I definitely fall into this trap…a lot especially as I’m trying to start running again and everything feels so hard. Will definitely remember these words on my next run!


This is all such great advice! Thank you.
The one about “giving yourself permission to slow down momentarily” brought back memories of the first time I broke 50 min. in a 10 k race. I had a cold and wasn’t feeling great and finally just thought, I HAVE to walk for a bit. So I walked for maybe 15 seconds, felt much better, and went on for a PB! A happy surprise, to be sure:)