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Defeating Negative Thought Patterns - RISE

Trail running is hard! No matter how much we want to look like Kilian, Jim, Xavier, Lizzy, Rory or Courtney* the reality is that finishing a long trail race means digging deep into our physical resources. It also means having to go into dark places and recesses of our minds if we wish to avoid the dreaded DNF.

Luckily however, much as it is possible to train our physical attributes, it is also possible to train our psychological status so as to be able to perform better or even just finish.

When things start going wrong it is all too easy to start an internal conversation in which everything is seen in a negative light. Feelings of inadequacy because other runners are passing us, not having done enough training, the weather is bad and I’m getting cold, the path is more rugged than it should be etc. etc. That is the moment in which it is necessary to have a psychological strategy in order to turn things round.

In the present article we shall look at a protocol that has been suggested by various sports psychologists as a way to reverse the negativity and find a positive reaction. This protocol goes by the acronym of RISE.

R = RECOGNISE. The first step, perhaps rather obviously, is to be aware and recognize that negative thinking has arisen in the brain. This is a question of internal recognition. There is something that is going wrong and unless we take immediate action it will create obstacles to the achievement of our final goal – that of arriving at the finish line and preferably with a huge smile. Negative thought patterns are extremely subtle. They start as small, almost insignificant, doubts or worries but they soon snowball and became large seemingly insurmountable barriers. Recognizing that we have begun a negative thought process requires a degree of critical thinking and intellectual honesty.

I = IDENTIFY. In order to slay a dragon it is necessary to find and study it, with the scope of understanding how we can overcome it. In this case it is a thought within us, it is interior and not external and we need to give it a name and a shape. Maybe we are upset with our performance and think that we won’t make the time that we had imagined, perhaps we are suffering pain from an injury or aching muscles or we could be angry because many other runners are passing us. Which part of us is it hurting? Is it physical (muscles, limbs) or is it mental (anger, delusion, ego)? Whatever it is we need to identify it and see it as were an external problem and not internal.

S = SWITCH. Once we have identified the source of these negative thoughts we can now accept them. Not as a judgment upon ourselves but almost as a gift of information. Whatever it is that is disturbing us is not a reflection of our worth as a human being. Something has happened, it is continuing to happen but we are not made a worse person by this event. Accepting the problem for what it is means that we are no longer in its power. Switching the viewpoint it ceases to be an internal problem and becomes external. “………. for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2 Sc. 2.

E = EXECUTE. It is now an external problem for which we can look for and find a solution. And you don’t have to be Einstein to find a solution in trail running – rocket science or relativity theory this is not! If the source of the negative thoughts is an injury or physical pain we will need to find some way of treating it – we should have a minimum of first aid equipment and if we don’t then they will have it at the next aid station. If the weather is getting worse we can use the equipment that we have and protect ourselves from the elements in the best way possible. Speed is not our best friend on this particular day, so let’s take the opportunity of striking up a conversation with a nearby runner going at the same pace. We may learn something from them or even make a new friend. We can consider the panorama in a new, more leisurely fashion and maybe take some better photos than usual. There is always at least a partial solution to any problem.

This process of RISE is not confined to use in physical activities. It is something that can be practiced and used in our normal, everyday life. All those small frustrations at work or at home, even the seemingly banal act of looking for a parking space can create a negative thought cycle. If treated according to the RISE principle it can be surprising how easily this negativity can be transformed from a problem to a solution. And practicing often in rather easier and less uncomfortable situations may well make it much easier to deal with different problems in a race situation.

*Kilian Jornet. Jim Walmsley, Xavier Thevenard, Lizzy Hawker, Rory Bosio, Courtney Dauwalter.

Acknowledgement to the work of Dr. Shawn Beardsley at Science of Ultra (

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