Running A-Z: M is for Mental Tricks for Runners

Sometimes running is easy. There are times when I get lost in the miles and they just fly by, but other times it can be hard. Sometimes my mind is running faster than my legs and I can't get into the right mindset to keep going when it gets tough. How do you get through those tough runs when your mind just won't quit? You learn to toughen up your mind. 

I often think that running can be more of a mental game than a physical one. It seems sometimes my head tries to talk my legs out of doing what they need to do. Whether you need mental strength for long runs, races, or just to get started, these are my best tips for conquering your mind on your runs. I think of mental toughness like a muscle: you have to work it for it to get stronger. 

Banish Negative Thoughts

I don't know where those thoughts come from or why our own thoughts can be so self-sabotaging, but recognizing that our negative thoughts can be lies can be the difference between pushing through to the next level or giving up. Anytime you start to have a negative thought try to replace it with a positive mantra. Usually I just repeat something easy like, "You can do it, you rock." (OK, don't laugh. It works.) Borrow mine or come up with your own less-dorky mantra. It's almost impossible for a negative thought to creep in when repeating a positive mantra.


Mentally Break up the Miles 

When I am running a long run I break up the miles in my head into more manageable segments. I'll run three mile loops and count loops instead of miles. 15 miles is only five loops. Five loops seems much more manageable than 15 miles. Sometimes I'll run out and back equal distance and only focus on getting to the halfway point. Once I get halfway, then I just have to run home (or call hubby from my cell phone and tell him to pick me up. Just kidding). Mentally breaking up the miles into smaller manageable segments makes it seem less daunting.

Focus on the Mile You are in

Try not to count the miles you have left to go. Focus on the mile you are in. Try to live in the moment and take in your surroundings. Have you ever started a marathon (or half) and at mile one started counting down to the end? I have and it's mental torture. If you are running mile one and already calculating the remaining miles, it is going to be a long race. Instead focus on mile one while you are in it, and try not to think too much about mile 26 (or 13) until you get there. 

Find a Running Partner

Ollie, my dog is a great running partner, but he is not a great conservationist. When I run with a friend, the kind that can talk back, the miles fly by and I almost forget I am running. I've had fabulous long runs with friends and the miles just vanished in the socializing.

Be Thankful for Every Mile

The best strategy I ever used to get through a half marathon is that I thought of 13 people that I loved and I dedicated each mile to a single person; thinking about them and being thankful that they are (or were) in my life. By focusing on another person from a place of gratitude, the miles flew by. There were times when I reached the end of the mile and I wish I had more time for that person. Can you believe I just said I actually wished I had more time at each mile? It wasn't my fastest half marathon time, but I may have cried tears of joy several times. It was an emotional and wonderful race. 

I often think about how grateful I am just to be able to run. I remember that I am thankful for strong legs, a healthy heart and the motivation to be out there in the first place. Remembering that running is a gift and privilege not afforded to everyone can help me get through tough times during a run.

Accept it

Running isn't always easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Part of the reason I love running so much is that it challenges me. Accept that running is hard at times. It is those tough times that make you stronger as a runner and as a person. I like the saying "get comfortable with being uncomfortable." Being uncomfortable forces us to grow. During those tough times on long runs, fast 5Ks or intervals that push my limits, I remember that this hard part is the good part. It is what makes me stronger. 

Do you have any mental tricks that you use to get through a run when the running gets tough? 

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Coach Lea

I am a NASM personal trainer and RRCA adult distance running coach that specializes in strength training for runners. I offer in-person training in the Shredshed, as well as online training. If you are interested in a more in-depth running or strength training plan, please contact me. Have questions? I'd love to help. 

While I am a certified personal trainer, I am not your personal trainer. Since I don't know your exercise abilities, injury background or medical history, please see your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.