Running with my values: Staying focused on what’s important

I’ve decided to write about my track session from this morning with the aim of reflecting upon how tapping into personal values can be a way of staying focused and committed throughout training/exercise sessions.

Following my recent return to regular track training, having been training erratically due to a hectic schedule, I decided to challenge myself to a track session that I have never before attempted alone – only in group sessions. This session is a lactate-inducing 400/800m session which I used to dread, and I found it particularly daunting today given that I hadn’t done it in over a year.

However, despite some unsettling feelings about it, I felt I was in a good place to take on the challenge. Recently I chatted through my training and motivation with a colleague and friend of mine, Evie, who I find to be totally confidence-inspiring and empowering. She helped me to recognise my strength of commitment and focus my mind-set in a constructive way for my training sessions.

So with my recent change in focus, I had already committed to doing this session beforehand and felt prepared to embrace the discomfort that would come with it. When I arrived at the track it was windy and rainy, plus my legs were still heavy from Monday’s session. I was tempted to swap the session in for a slower one, but instead reminded myself of my prior commitment and decided to try tapping into my values.


When I first started running, I was very prone to stopping when things got hard, or avoiding doing tough sessions by myself, as I wasn’t prepared to mentally handle the physical pain or risk running a time I wasn’t pleased with. I would allow my fear of the discomfort and negative thoughts to take over.

But over time, I’ve learned to ask myself: what matters more to me – my intrinsic values behind doing this session, or avoiding discomfort and potentially “slow” times?

The session this morning consisted of 8 reps of 300m done very fast, so I thought I would try thinking of 8 values behind why I was doing the session. A few overlapped, but there’s nothing wrong with reaffirming important values in my eyes.

NB: values are very personal and unique to you as an individual, so these values are not ones that you “should” adopt yourself – they are simply my own values behind training.

These were the values I came up with as I was warming up:

  1. Self-improvement: this drives a lot of what I do, as I simply gain a lot of intrinsic satisfaction out of progression in many areas.
  2. Challenging myself: again this is something else that drives most of my training – I like to challenge myself and put myself in tough situations, as it gives me a sense of mastery and achievement.
  3.  Boosting my mental toughness: the more I do these sorts of sessions, the tougher I become mentally against future adversities and times of discomfort – it’s a great opportunity to practise experiencing discomfort with a mindful approach.
  4. Doing it because I can: I often feel very grateful for my ability to run and train as I do, amongst other things, so I like the idea of training simply because I am able to physically run the session, and am able to decide to go through with it. This is also a way of further affirming to myself that I am in control of my decisions – my decisions are guided by values not momentary emotions.
  5. Proving to myself that I can handle it: as someone who historically has lacked confidence, I find it empowering to do challenging things in order to prove there and then that my self-doubts are wrong!
  6. Boosting my fitness: this is an important value for me as I care a lot about my health, energy levels and ability to do things. Doing this session would add to my bank of activities that further my fitness in various ways.
  7. Making other things seem easier: this isn’t exactly a value, it’s more of a reason, but this sort of tough session is perfect for making race pace or training paces at longer distances feel easier physically! If I conquer this session, it gives me more confidence when I face challenges that I perceive to be smaller.
  8. Doing something very difficult: this is the same thing as “challenging myself” really, but whenever I asked myself why I was doing the session, I kept thinking “because it’s difficult”, and this resonated with me because there’s just something really enticing about the idea of completing something that isn’t easily done.

So I reflected on one of these values each time I pushed through a rep. I find that staying focused on the personal reasons for my efforts helps me to run with a purpose, i.e. push myself and pay attention to how my body is feeling. If I can be in full contact with my values while I am training, I do everything with much more presence and vigour.

I was pretty happy (despite being windswept and soaked!) after doing that!

Historically I would try to distract myself or “dissociate” from the physical discomfort – let’s be honest, the feeling of lactate building up isn’t one you want to prolong! But I’ve discovered that I don’t need to distract myself from it.  It isn’t going to go away, no matter how much I try to ignore it, so I find it best to work with it. For me, staying connecting to my values helps me to view my running more mindfully – I don’t need to distract myself, I can simply experience the discomfort knowing I am honouring my values and creating something important as I run.

This isn’t to say that this method is right for everyone – as a trainee psychologist I recognise the huge importance of individual differences in choosing how you go about motivating yourself. This is just the way I choose to go about focusing on my values, and it’s one of many examples of how you can use it in training.



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