I have a client that is a runner and has been stuck at seven to eight miles as his longest distance for quite some time. He is ready to take the next step and move into a higher mileage range. He is not an extremely fast runner and is not training for anything specific. Can you offer some tips on how he can motivate himself to push past the mental block of only being able to run seven or eight miles?
Since we cannot assess your client’s physiological attributes and physical “readiness” from this end, we will leave that in your capable hands and in the hands of your client’s doctor/therapist.
Your question specifically relates to helping your client push past the “mental block” of only being able to run seven to eight miles, and while the mental make up of an individual can certainly be as complex - if not MORE complex - as the physical makeup, we will give you some thoughts and suggestions to bring into your next session.
You mention that the client is “not an extremely fast runner and is not training for anything specific.” While his lack of speed certainly won’t have an impact on how far he goes (in fact, it may assist him in going further), the fact that he is not training for anything specific may hold a key to your question. In the fitness industry, in sport and in life for that matter, we often become obsessed with the notion of “HOW” to achieve something (a further distance, a bigger weight, a certain technique) long before we take the time to understand “WHAT” exactly we want and “WHY.” Anthony Robbins, arguably one of the world’s most successful coaches (working with individuals as far reaching as Andre Aggassi, Greg Norman, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela), often states that 20 percent of achieving a given goal comes down to HOW to do it, while 80 percent of achievement comes down to WHY – our ultimate purpose for achieving the goal. Personally and professionally, I have found this to be very true. I know from my experience with elite level athletes, the athletes that have gone the furthest towards achieving their goals are the ones who have developed within themselves the deepest connection to what they really want and why they want it. They push the hardest even when I am not pushing them, and when we work together toward a SPECIFIC GOAL, we often find that our results actually exceed that which we seek.
Every athlete is different in terms of what will propel them to go TODAY beyond what they thought possible YESTERDAY, and ultimately it is up to you to weave your way into their psychology and physiology to find the best approach. That is one of the true joys of being a personal trainer/coach and will be what keeps your clients coming back to you in the long run: not only achieving their goals but also working with them to find ways to go beyond what they thought was possible.
We have all had times in our life when we have done something we never thought we could do: a sporting feat, a business deal, giving birth, etc. Life is full of moments like this, where we may look back on the event and say, “How did I do that?” Indeed it seems like (and may be) a miracle. One need not look far into research or media to find people all around the world performing “miraculous” feats in sport or life – to achieve something great or help to save a life. These cases may be extreme when compared to a fitness client breaking the eight-mile barrier, but my feeling is that the essence behind the achievement is the same. Individuals who achieve great things are driven by a deeply compelling vision for what they really want and why it MUST be done. There are MANY other variables that come into play along the way, but these elements form pillars of support and springboards for committed action along the way.
So my suggestion for you is to start is by helping your client decide what he really wants and why. What is his ultimate vision for his body and fitness, and what is his purpose for achieving that? How will his life benefit? You may find that just clarifying his vision will liberate his lungs and running legs (if in fact his goal is to run further – maybe he would actually REALLY like to run faster?). If he does have a deep desire to run further, but he does not have a compelling enough or specific enough reason to "go the extra mile," then I suggest that you and he need to find one. Create one, either internally and/or externally... whichever works best for your client. And make it BIG. Don’t think, “How can we get past the eight mile mark?” Think instead something like, “How can we run a half marathon faster than our current eight mile pace?” If he’s driven, perhaps you could set a specific goal for him to enter and finish a half marathon in six months' time, even if it seems slightly unrealistic. If his drive is there, go for it. Sometimes by committing to a vision that is beyond our current imagination, even if we risk falling short of this vision, we easily surpass the current block. As your client strives for the half marathon, he might just find himself doing 10-mile runs without even thinking of it. And from my experience, you may find that by setting big goals you actually liberate your client to achieve even BIGGER THINGS!
This is just a hypothetical situation, but it will hopefully give you some ideas to consider when launching your client past his current threshold. Even with my most committed athletes, there are times when their motivation wanes, when we hit plateaus and need to find creative ways to surpass them. If we are absolutely clear about our vision and purpose and if all other channels are flowing, but we still feel stuck, sometimes the best thing to do is change your approach. Try something new. Break the current routine with your client. If you are used to running a certain loop, take him on a different loop where he does not know the distances or spend a couple of sessions just working speed, running hills, running trails, riding bikes or something else that may expand his physiological output while giving his mind a break from the impending goal. In these cases, you can often "back your way" into his goal without him even realizing it. There is something quite nice about taking a client who does not think he is capable of something, putting your arm around him at the end of a session and saying, “I hate to tell you this, but... You just did it! Tomorrow we’ll do it with our eyes open!”
Ultimately, as a trainer, you must have the same level of vision and purpose about helping your clients, that your clients need to achieve their goals. You must be driven in ways that push you past your own limits and patterns of thought, which will in turn enable you to push your clients past theirs. Together you form a partnership, and in this arena of fitness, that is ultimately what makes true success possible – for both you and the client.
I hope this helps. Let us know when your client sprints past the eight-mile mark!