The top mental roadblock that Kamphoff's runners reported were destructive, woe-is-me thoughts: How can thousands of other runners meet their goal and I can't? Or Seriously? I worked so hard and here I am cramping up. "Negative thinking hurts our running because it doesn't allow us to see possibilities or our own potential," Kamphoff says. It can also lead to shallow breathing, increased heart rate, or tense muscles, any of which can make it physically harder to run.
Hurdle It: Midway through the 2012 Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, Tere Derbez Zacher was hurting and thinking, Maybe I shouldn't be doing this. But the 41-year-old family counselor from Scottsdale, Arizona, pulled it together. "I kept telling myself, Where the mind goes, the body follows, and that got me through," she says.
Indeed, the trick to managing negative thoughts is to recognize that you have the power to silence them, says Greg Chertok, director of sports psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in Englewood, New Jersey. On your daily runs, practice being aware of your inner voice, and when it says something negative, employ a stop mechanism—a tool that enables you to shift your focus to something positive. A motivating word or a distracting song or body cue, like concentrating on your breathing or on your arm pumping, can work. When Jeff Weldon, 40, CFO of United Prairie Bank from North Mankato, Minnesota, started struggling at mile 23 of the 2012 Whistlestop Marathon, he stayed positive by smiling. "Sounds corny," he says, "but it really worked."