minutes per mile blog

how to become a less emotional runner

We’re almost at Friday, and almost at race day! Today’s taper rambles are about emotional unattachment. I know it sounds cold and cruel, but it’s seriously my favorite race tactic. Let me explain.

When I first started running marathons, I used to get really nervous at the start line, hyped up during the first half of the race, and then way too emotional at the end. I cried (sometime happy tears, sometime sad tears) during the end of almost every one of the first four marathons I ran. All of the race day emotions made for some good memories I guess, but honestly, the ups and downs were just a waste of energy. Energy that I could have otherwise dedicated to running! (Here’s me forcing a smile and holding back tears right before I hit the wall during a marathon in 2013):
In the last couple of years, some things happened — and my whole mental marathon game has changed. It all started when I hired a coach (more on that below) and received the following email. It was a week before the Marine Corps Marathon, which was sort of a spontaneous race we’d only decided that I would run a few weeks beforehand. And I was freaking out.


Emotional unattachment. It was a new concept to me and I embraced it as my mantra for the race. (Talk about inspiring!)

But: it worked. I set a new PR during MCM and I haven’t shed a single tear during a marathon since. If you want to become a less emotional runner, here’s what’s worked for me…

1. Hire a coach (or other resource). As noted above, I had a coach from 2013-2014 and having him on my side was amazing. At the time, I was being too hard on myself when it came to training and he was incredibly helpful in helping me find balance and run smarter. The other huge perk of having a coach: I could put all of my stress on him, not me. When I headed to the start line of the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013 (photo below!), I reassured myself that if I didn’t meet my goal, it wasn’t my “fault” — it was my coach’s! A bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it helped me reduce the self-pressure and emotions that can build up before a race. If you’re becoming too emotionally attached to your training, I suggest you hire a coach or commit to a third-party training plan/book. That way you can relieve yourself of having to juggle two roles (coach and runner) simultaneously — and when you get to the start line, you can put all of your trust into your training.marine_corps_marathon_2013_22. Get serious at the track. I used to go to the track to hang out and half-commit to some fast-ish laps with no real goal in mind. Basically, my track workouts were unstructured and messy — which was better than nothing, I suppose. But: Over the past couple years I’ve gotten a lot more serious about my track workouts. This has not only made me physically stronger, but has also been great mental training for race day. During the last few marathons I’ve basically treated the race as 26 separate track workouts — a simple one-mile pace goal to hit, 26 times in a row. Approaching the marathon like this keeps my mind in a focused/blank state. And I don’t freak out. It’s great.

3. Stop listening to music. I know that some runners swear that a solid playlist is the secret to success… but for me personally, silence is better :). I used to be a music runner, and I distinctly remember certain songs affecting me during races. Sure, sometimes a good jam would help me pick up the pace for half a mile — but then I’d pay for it a few miles later when I completely tanked after going out too fast. I also remember wasting breath and energy while singing or crying along to songs at miles 23-26 where I used to fall apart emotionally. (I know, I’m crazy. I’m also a very easy crier and aspiring pop star…) Basically: music evokes emotions; so if you want to be a less emotional runner, stop listening to it. ps – I also remember absolutely hating my entire playlist (and life) during the end of the Southern Plunge Marathon in 2012, pictured below. By mile 18 I had ripped out my headphones and thrown them at Anthony. pps – this photo makes me miss the PureConnect 1s. The first line was the best!DSC015214. Think of yourself as an athlete (not a marathoner). This was another great tip from my former coach. People who run marathons tend to think of themselves *only* as marathoners. Not as “runners,” and definitely not as “athletes.” Although “marathoner” does make you sound pretty badass, it’s also extremely limiting. And it puts waaaay too much pressure on one single event. When I started thinking of myself as an athlete, I was able to reduce the emotional stock I put into the marathon. Although I still love the marathon and view it as a challenge, I don’t think it’s the end-all, be-all test of me as a person or my level of fitness. I try to remember this fact during the race and it helps me keep my cool.

5. Keep gaining experience. I don’t think that running a marathon can ever become “routine,” but I will say that it becomes a little less daunting the more you do it. I’ve learned so many lessons after running eight marathons, and each one helps me feel more confident and less doubtful at the start line — ultimately helping me stay cool, calm, and collected. Just keep racing, and you’ll start to get the hang of how to do it right.IMG_5458So, there you have it. If you’re curious about the whole emotional unattachment thing, I highly recommend reading this book, by the way! Being a less emotional runner won’t turn you into a cold-hearted competitor, I promise. It’ll just make you look a little less crazy when you’re out there at mile 24 :)

  • Are you an emotional runner?
  • Tips for keeping it together (mentally) during a race?
  • Have you ever worked with a coach?

9 thoughts on “how to become a less emotional runner

  1. I’ve never worked with a coach, but I still like this idea and subscribe to it a bit. I think ‘practicing’ races by just running more of them is a great idea. It helps with the nerves and getting a routine down for yourself so you can have an idea of what to expect. Also, it keeps some of the pressure off of just one race. You can always find another if this one doesn’t go as planned.

  2. This is my favorite post that I’ve read in a while, great job! Ha, and it’s very relevant to me right now. I do have a coach and he set for me a long run on a Wednesday night… plus speed work. So last night I set out to run 17mi @ marathon pace + 4×800 @ half marathon pace. Mentally, I was a nervous wreck before and it showed in my run. It was literally the worst run I’ve ever had and I didn’t even finish it. I love what you said about putting the pressure on my coach and not on myself. I need to start being more emotionally detached because not only did I cry after, I also cried during the run…and it wasn’t even a race! thanks for your words.

    • glad it was helpful! and wow – that is an intense workout for a wednesday night. how early were you able to start? i can’t imagine doing that many miles during a weekday, especially in the evening! how long have you been working with this coach and do you think he/she has an approach that works for you? sounds pretty hardcore!

      • I referenced this post on my blog today :) I hope you don’t mind! I’ve been working with him since January… It’s definitely been a lot, but he is really helpful. I think I just need to communicate better and be honest when something is too much for me!

  3. I have never had a coach, I think that it would benefit me a great deal. I am not an emotional runner. I would love to just cry at the finish line but I am not sure if it would be from pain or pleasure that it is over. I hope you have a great race.

  4. Thank you for this post! I’m doing a half-marathon this weekend, and I know I’m overthinking things. It’s not my first by any means, but it’s the first time I’ve ever really tried, which makes me nervous … and emotional. Need to unattach :)