Mental toughness is everything when in long-distance running. These top tips will help you find your running mindset and get your head in the game on your runs.
As runners, we've all been there: not even a mile in and struggling to get our heads in the game. Whether you're preparing to run competitively in a half marathon, a full marathon, or you're just gearing up to make it through your neighborhood 5K for the first time, positive self-talk is an essential part of becoming a better runner — and making it to the finish line.
Here, we'll take a look at tried-and-true strategies you can use to hype yourself up through your training plan, on race day, and beyond.
We know, we know — it sounds a little “out there” to visualize yourself running, but it works. Visualization doesn't have to take hours. The practice of taking a few minutes to think about how you want your run to go, to visualize how you'll be your own cheerleader when things get rough, and how you'll overcome mental challenges along the way can all provide a huge benefit to your training.
Self-doubt is a normal part of running, even for professional athletes. When you use visualization as a mental training tool to prepare your mind for a training run, you're preemptively stopping negative thoughts.
Each time you attempt a new distance or want to hit a new benchmark in your training, your mind can easily get psyched out. When you practice visualization and mindfulness, the challenge doesn't seem quite so new to your brain — and your body will likely follow suit.
Having a particularly good training run? Take a few minutes to visualize your running experience on race day. Your mind can take the good feelings from your training run and pull on those great memories when race day rolls around.
Use Music (Or Other Audio) to Your Advantage
If you prefer your own running thoughts to music or a podcast, more power to you! If you're someone who likes to get lost in some uptempo jams or some motivational audio, it's a smart move to pre-load your phone with the sounds you'll need to block out negative thoughts and boost your mental game.
If you get in a particularly deep rut during a training run, pull up some motivational videos on Youtube to give you a boost in mental strength. Sometimes, there's nothing like hearing an Olympic athlete or a motivational speaker talk about their experiences to help you push through a difficult running experience.
Use Baby Steps
When you're running, try to break down your run into baby steps. It can be incredibly daunting to think about completing a ten-mile training run, even if you're an experienced marathoner.
Breaking your runs down into baby steps — taking it one mile at a time, or even a quarter-mile at a time — can provide you with small wins that can give you the boost you need to make it to the end.
If you're out for a particularly long distance run, it can be helpful to only focus on the time between fueling stops. Look forward to the jelly beans, energy gel, or sports drink — block out the rest.
Getting in Your Head During Training Sessions (Or on Race Day)? Try Grounding
Grounding is a simple technique used by counselors and sports psychologists to help you keep your attention focused in the present moment.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is simple to remember: find five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Repeat as many times as needed throughout your run.
Grounding can pull you out of the mental challenges that you're facing (especially if you're a distance runner with many training miles ahead) and can keep you focused on simply making it through the next couple of steps.
Get Your Eyes Away From Your Phone
Knowing your pace can be great information as you work through a training run, but it can also get discouraging. If watching your phone for pace updates tends to create self-doubt, put the phone away.
You can still track your pace so you can get a sense of how you did at the end of your run, but don't stare at it constantly as you're moving. If you still want some updates, using distance checkpoints (such as looking at your phone when you hit your turnaround point), can be a great way to be knowledgeable of your pace while still keeping your mental game strong.
Talk to Other Runners
Self-talk matters, but it can also be helpful to get into a community of like-minded runners. Joining a running club, working with a certified running coach, and even joining an online support group of fellow runners training for a half marathon or marathon can all give you the support you need to keep going when things get tough.
Most runners deal with mental strength issues at some point in their training, and talking to others training for your specific distance can give you the support you need to push through when times get tough.
The Final Word on Running Mindset
Mental toughness is a massive part of making it through a successful training program. Most runners use multiple mental strength techniques to make it to race day, including visualization, positive podcasts, becoming a part of a running community, breaking long runs down into small chunks, and more.
Be patient with yourself when it comes to finding the right running mindset strategy that works for you — it may take a few tries before you find the perfect strategy to step up your mental game.
FAQs About Running Mindset
Can mindset make a real difference in my training?
Absolutely. Research suggests that even elite athletes gain a competitive advantage when they focus on their mental fitness along with their physical fitness.
How can I remember to check my mindset while I'm doing a long-distance run?
It's easy to let your thoughts run away during a tough run. Set alarms on your phone with positive reminders to help you remember that you're not just increasing your running endurance — you're training your mental toughness as well.