When it comes to running, particularly long distances, many of us think first about the physical work it takes. There are several reasons why athletes spend months preparing for a marathon to ensure that their body is in shape, their nutrition is on point and their cardiovascular system runs like a well-oiled machine. Physical factors undoubtedly impact your success on the run, but running can be just as much mental as it is physical for many people.
Is your mind in shape for the next big run? Whether you’re training for a marathon or just taking your new running shoes out for a spin, here are the tricks and hacks that can help you win the mental battle while running.
Shake Off Nerves Before a Big Race
With a big race, especially your first, the challenge typically starts before your shoes even hit the pavement. Excitement, nerves and adrenaline create a cocktail in the pit of your stomach, and it can hurt your game. Instead, shake those jitters out, literally, with a brief jog or “shakeout run” before your big moment.
A few hours before the race, lace up your running shoes and go for a brief 5- to 15-minute jog to wake your body up and shake out any nerves in your legs. You’ll be nice and loose once the race officially begins with your blood flowing and, hopefully, the nerves gone.
We all love having shiny new things, and when we get them, we want to show them off, try them out and break them in. Although simple in concept, running is a whole lot more enjoyable when you have the right gear. Running shoes are perhaps the most essential pieces of equipment in the modern runner’s gear bag. Though athletic leggings, gym shorts or other workout clothes for women (Or workout clothes for men!) are also important. To perform at your best, it helps to be comfortable and supported—feeling stylish never hurt either.
If you’re just starting out or your runs have left you uninspired lately, lacing up a new pair of running shoes can make a huge difference. For example, upgrading from your beaten-down shoes to a premium pair made for running can make your runs more comfortable and keep you going for longer. If you’re looking for recommendations, the Floatride running shoes from Reebok are highly rated among pro marathoners and amateur runners alike.
Play Games in Your Head
One of the biggest challenges of running can be keeping your brain occupied and away from the “I’m so tired—maybe I should walk the rest?” thoughts. Wrangling your mind once you’ve started looking for the rest stop can be tough, however. But if you can keep it genuinely busy, you won’t have time to think about how tired you are or how much farther you still have to go. That’s where brain games come in.
Even just playing a simple counting game can keep you busy for hours once you get into it. The next time you’re running with a group, try counting how many people are wearing white shoes, or if you run on the sidewalk, look for specific makes or models of cars and keep count. Whatever it is, safely occupy your mind as much as possible, and you’ll forget that you even thought about slowing down 4 miles back.
Just 50 More Steps
Though the mileage may vary per runner, when you’re starting something like a 10-mile run, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. You might ask yourself, “10 whole miles? I’m supposed to run that all at once?” but it isn’t as daunting if you break it up into small segments. The longer your run, the more useful this technique is. However, even at just 5 miles, if you think of the run as more like five 1-mile runs, the mental challenge isn’t as tricky with your finish line only a mile away.
When the going really gets tough, break it down even further in your mind, using landmarks or step counts to keep you motivated. Aim to go just 50 more steps, then you can take a break (but not really). Once you reach 50 steps, go another 50. Keep this up, and you’ll realize that you have a lot more running in you than you might have given yourself credit for with the finish line fast approaching.
Daydream About Your Big Moment
Many will tell you that the hardest part of running a marathon is training for it. It requires running nearly every day, building up to the actual physical and mental test of enduring a full marathon. But during training, it’s easy to forget the prize at the end of the race. When you catch yourself getting into that headspace, take a moment to daydream about what race day will look like.
Imagine yourself at the starting line, lost in a sea of people. See yourself separating from the herd a few miles in with a space all your own. Think about how great it will feel to hear people cheering you on and passing you small cups of water along the way. Finally, imagine how spectacular it will be when you cross that finish line and get a medal placed around your neck. All of these dreams will be real soon enough; just put in the work now, and they’re inevitable.
Come Up with a Mantra
Part of the appeal of long-distance running, besides the exercise and physical endurance test, is the “runner’s high” associated with it. Runs can last for hours, and there’s no shortcut around that. Making the time pass by is a part of the mental challenge since you have seemingly all of the time in the world to talk yourself out of maintaining your pace or pushing yourself farther. To fight this, many pros go into a trance state, feeling nothing but their running shoes hitting the pavement, in tune with their surroundings.
You should try it too, and to help, you can practice a mantra. Just like one would repeat a mantra as they meditate, positive affirmations such as “one step at a time” can help keep your mind focused on the path ahead, not the inner voice telling you you’re tired. Try it out and keep that mantra going for as long as you need it—it just might be the secret ingredient to your most successful runs.
Know That It’ll Be Easier Next Time
Every journey starts with a first step, including your journey to become a professional long-distance runner. At the start, the idea of running even just 5 miles might seem daunting—until you do it. Then running 10 miles will seem flat-out impossible—until you do it. This trend continues upward, with each goal moving farther and farther away from the starting line. Pretty soon, that 5-mile run that was daunting before turns into your warm-up, with the rest soon to follow.
As you’re running, remember that as the distance increases, every mile will be a smaller part of the journey. You’re also bound to build confidence with each run, knowing that you can run 2 miles or more without stopping when it was once a huge challenge. Keep pushing yourself to set new personal records, and that inner voice that tells you to slow down will get quieter.
Focus Beyond the Run
When you’re not even at the halfway point of the run, it’s easy to feel like it will never end. But it will, and when it does, you deserve a reward. When you hit a rough patch where every step feels heavier than the last, remember that this discomfort is only temporary, and a prize is waiting for you at the finish line.
Think about what you’d enjoy most after the end of a hard run. Maybe it’s a soak in a hot tub or some “you time” to kick your feet up with a good book. If it’s an incredibly difficult run, treat yourself to a new pair of athletic leggings you’ll wear on the next one. You have lots of time to think about it during the run, so take your time and imagine the perfect reward for all of your hard work.
Go into It with a Plan
Running is just as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Before you slip on your gym shorts or lace up your running shoes, go into your run with a plan to combat the mental blocks that will try to hold you back. They might peek through at some point, but with the right tricks, hacks and games, you can push through them.
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