When we need advice or running tips, we ask Keira. And because we know she won’t brag about it herself, she just qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the marathon. You go, Keira. 

My doctor cleared me to start running again about six weeks after I gave birth to my second child. She said I was physically ready to slowly start running again. As a seasoned runner, I was so excited. But I was also very apprehensive. My mental fortitude was no where near where it used to be and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the thought of running one single lap at a track. An “easy” 4-mile run, which I had done countless times in my life, suddenly seemed like my Everest. I already felt defeated and I hadn’t even taken my first step.

Fast forward to 8 months later and I’m standing on the starting line of the Virginia Beach Yuengling Shamrock Marathon. At this moment I’m feeling completely confident I can take on the 26.2-mile distance that lies before me. Completely confident? When did this mentality switch happen? It still seems unbelievable and even funny when I think about how far I came during those 8 months. I say this with complete honesty– I did not think running a marathon the same year I had a baby was possible for me. What I’m here to tell you is this: whatever Everest is staring you in the face right now, it is possible to climb. If you want to make it happen, I’m telling you, you can.

As important as it is to train your body to get there, you can’t forget about your mind. Here are 4 running tips you can use to equip your head to support those big goals of yours:

Start small and grow slow

It’s intimidating (and a literal pain in the neck) to look straight up at the top of a mountain. Focus your sights toward the base, and you’ll find that with each simple step you get closer and closer to the top.

For my friends looking to start or begin anew the journey of long distance running, the best advice I have for you is to start small. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If your goal is to run a marathon, day one needs to start out on a realistic foot. For you that may mean a 20-minute run, or it may mean a walk around the block. Don’t be a hero on day one. Each one of us needs to start where we are able and build from there. While you are steadily increasing your mileage or minutes, you are simultaneously training your brain to recognize what your body is capable of achieving.

No matter where you start, give yourself a pat on the back and try for a little more the next day. The slow build-up will keep your body healthy and your mind confident. If you are training your mind and body to run more minutes and more miles, every single run should not be more minutes and more miles. I recommend trying to achieve one long run each week and filling in the other days with shorter runs. If your longest run was 3 miles this week, try for 3.5 next week, and 4 the following. Slowly, and I repeat, SLOWLY increase. Adding too much too quick is a first-class ticket to the doctor’s office and to defeat-city. You never want to increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% from the previous week. You don’t have to be a math major to do this, you just need a little patience!

Another benefit of building slowly is that you are giving your brain constant “wins.” After finishing your long run for the week, your brain will recognize what you’ve done, and the belief that it’s possible to do more will subconsciously start to grow.

Cross train to build confidence

Simulate your running goal distance BEFORE attempting to run that far. Here’s what I mean: if your goal is to run sixty minutes without stopping, hop on the bike or elliptical for sixty minutes first. It’s all about preparing your body and mind, getting them used to being active for a certain amount of time. Biking and using the elliptical are two examples of cross training that are far less strenuous on the body than running. Cross training is a great way to ease your body into your bigger running goals and get your brain used to the timing of it all.

Double dip your time

Life gets busy and sometimes the hardest thing to manage is finding the time to run. Build your run into your daily schedule. I personally like to run in the morning so I don’t have to think about it the rest of the day. What will work for you?

It’s also natural to feel a little guilty while you’re out running. The time you spend running may mean time away from the kids, or cleaning the house, or studying – there’s always something else we feel like we “should” be doing. So double dip your time. Use running as a way to catch up with a buddy, learn something new from a podcast, or rock out to your favorite music. I find that I don’t feel as guilty when I am doing it this way because I am killing two birds with one stone. And here’s the added benefit: these extras will also make your runs more fun. Brain breaks are a simple way to trick your brain into running longer. After all, time flies when you’re having fun, right?

Constantly changing it up

The only constant is change. Don’t let running become stale. Stay mentally on your toes. Try new locations, try out-and-backs, try loops, try asking a friend to drop you off somewhere and then run home, try running as far as you can and then catch an Uber home (don’t forget your phone for this one)! Keeping things fresh makes for new challenges and barriers to overcome. And doesn’t that sound like something you can wrap your mind around?

Best of luck with your long run journey, don’t forget to check in with me and share how it’s going. Tag us on Instagram at @running_realtorrva and @healthwarrior – we’ll be here cheering you on!

Want more running tips? Get Keira’s tips for beginners here.