Are You a Physical Runner or Mental Runner?

The body or the mind. Which is running the show when you run?

This post isn’t just about running, but it hit me while running.  And it’s hit me before while on a mountain. It’s really for anyone doing something you either feel like you can’t do, or think you can’t do.  Or don’t want to keep doing. As I was thinking about writing this, I saw a great tip in my daily Runner’s World calendar that hit the nail on the head:

RW Inner QuitterThe words are simple, but the meaning is very deep. For many challenges we face, we may be far more capable of conquering them than we think or than we feel physically. What I’ve come to learn is that often, my body is more than capable of tackling what I ask of it. But my mind is doubtful. I get anxious before every run and often question whether I can keep it up during many runs, and yet I’ve never had to bag a run because I couldn’t finish.  Sure, I’ve had to scratch a race or put a run off a day or two due to injury, but I mean more that I have the ability to go out but think I can’t actually live up to the task.

For some people, the equation is flipped. Mentally, they are 100% there. But there is a physical barrier holding them back – perhaps being tired from a bad night’s sleep, allergies, a headache, etc. But they have set their mind to a goal and push through those barriers to achieve the goal regardless of what physical restrictions or inabilities they faced.

Now, you have to be mindful of injury and whether your doubts are actually rational and protecting you from something.  But in general, we are far more capable beings than our bodies or our minds often give us credit for.

So, what does this mean in practice? It means that you need to look within yourself to understand if physical limitations are holding you back, or if mental limitations are doing it. If physical, what mindset can you adopt to help you through it? If mental, what tools can you employ to silence your mind or let your physical capability out-reason your anxiety (for example, I workout very early in the morning, before I’ve had the chance to wake up enough to argue with myself about it)?

Undestand if a part of your equation is unfairly keeping you from achieving. Learn about yourself and how to overcome your self-imposed constraints, and go for your goals. Achieving is how you enlighten.your.body.

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.


  1. I can so relate to this. In races longer than 5K, my mind takes over. I just ran a 10k last weekend and although physically I was fine, I ended up walking a lot of it because it was so hot and I felt tired. Same goes with a half marathon or marathon, once I get tired or feel out of breath I stop and walk bc I feel like I can’t keep going. Any tips or books I can read regarding mental strength?

    • Patty, thanks for your comment. I walked in my first 10K because it was hot and I didn’t think I could make it. Looking back, I definitely could. Today, I did a 10K trail race that was a double 5K loop with some people doing a 5K version. I had to battle the mental demons during the entire first loop about just cutting out to the finish instead of branching off to do a second loop. Guess what – I finished. I also fell in the second loop and am doing much icing now, but I’m still glad I did the whole thing. It was well within my physical abilities.

      I’m about to write a piece on that trail race, so check back soon!

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