“I struggled to run further than 5k for months – but this simple hack helped me push through”

If you’re struggling to push yourself past the 5k mark on your runs, this simple hack could make all the difference, says Stylist’s Lauren Geall.

When I first started running, I used to dream of the day when it would come easy. Naïvely, I assumed that getting fitter would make the distances feel shorter – that a 5k would soon feel like a brief jog round the block – but of course, this wasn’t the case. Getting fitter doesn’t, as I soon discovered, give you the ability to bend the rules of space and time, and while improving my fitness made it possible for me to push myself harder, the running itself never became as easy as I’d once hoped.

Confronted with this harsh reality, I’ve found it difficult to push myself beyond the 5k distance I reached over a year ago. I’ve managed to run 10k a handful of times, but it’s always been a struggle – I’m fine until I reach 5k, but when I realise I’ve still got another 5k to go, my motivation levels quickly reach rock bottom.  

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It’s not like my fitness levels aren’t up to scratch – I regularly attend the gym, go for runs and try to stay active – it feels more like some kind of insurmountable psychological barrier. Suddenly, I become all too aware of how fatigued I feel or how out of breath I am, and I have to force myself to keep going right until the very end.

After almost six months, I was close to giving up – that was until I tried a simple mental hack recommended to me by none other than Stylist’s Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi. Simple, easy and (most importantly) free, it’s made such a difference to how I feel during my 10k runs that I just had to share it. 

How to go from running 5k to 10k

This hack is all to do with changing up what you listen to when you run.

The hack Miranda told me about was so simple, I was sceptical at first. To try it out for yourself, all you need is your phone and some headphones, then start out on your run by selecting a podcast that’s around 30 minutes in length.

For the first stage of your run – when you’re feeling good – you’ll listen to this podcast, keeping an eye on your pace as you do so (you’ll need to stay at a pace that doesn’t leave you gasping for breath, of course).

Once you reach the 5k point, it’s time to switch to music. Find your most energising running playlist and spend the next 5k carried by the beat of the music. When it gets tough, the pace of the music should help to carry you over the finish line.  

My experience

As I’ve already mentioned, I was a little sceptical about whether something so simple as switching between a podcast and music would help me get over a problem I’ve been struggling with for months – but it really did make a difference.

Listening to a podcast helped me to start off at a slower pace than I normally do – something that is really important when you’re trying to run longer distances. Human voices have a slower and more consistent rhythm than, say, a pop song, and that helped me to ease into the run in a way that felt comfortable and uplifting.  

Then, instead of feeling a sense of dread when my watch flashed 5k, I was almost excited to switch over to my favourite running playlist. And while I still felt tired by the 8k mark, I didn’t feel as mentally spent as I usually do 50 minutes into my run.  

I’m not an expert, so I can’t say exactly why this made such a difference – but I think it’s got something to do with the ‘fresh’ feeling changing up my audio choice had on my second 5k. Instead of feeling like one ‘big’ run, the 10k ended up feeling like a tale of two halves – and splitting it into two made it feel a lot more manageable.

The change in tempo from the podcast to the music also gave me a burst of energy, which was a welcome distraction from the midway point that I typically find tricky.  

The verdict

Switching up what you’re listening to can make a surprisingly big difference.

While switching between a podcast and a playlist may not improve your technique or make you a better runner, it’s definitely a great way to break up your runs if you’re finding it tough to stay engaged.

If anything, I guess this shows just how big a role our minds play in running – and how improving your fitness isn’t the only factor when it comes to chasing a new PB. 

Images: Getty

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