So, you’ve decided to take the step, and challenge yourself to run a longer distance? Well done you! Running long distances takes some hard work and discipline, not only with the amount of time you will spend training, recovering and keeping your nutrition and hydration on point. But also, mentally. Running long distances is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one; you often hear the saying “Your body will run further than your mind will” and its right! It’s your thoughts and emotions you need to convince whilst heading for the half marathon, full 26.2 miles of a full marathon or an ultra, and the further you go, the more mental game you will need.
Yet, you can purchase training plans (or find them for free online) to physically cover the miles. Build up your cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, your balance and proprioception. The plans will take you step-by-step (or heartbeat by heartbeat for Heart Rate based training) to make sure your body will get conditioned to the distance. Any decent plan will cross-train and keep your body guessing, with new training stimuli: interval training, fartlek, threshold, heart rate. But there’s one thing missing…
… Where is the mental training? Does the plan assume, because you’ve invested money, you will adhere to it? Or likewise, your determination and credibility to finish the event you signed up for… Or, does it simply think by adhering to the training you will find a way to overcome the mental trepidations?
Either way, you might want to add a few of these tricks to keep you mentally stimulated, and not let your brain take over your training:
- Escape the zombies!
- Visualise your race
- Meditative running
- Binge listen
- Make exciting plans
– If you’re alone and struggling, give yourself a little pep talk. Acknowledge what your brain is saying, but don’t dwell on it – really check in with the rest of your body… Are your legs actually tired or is it a big fat lie? Imagine you are with a friend and what they are saying to you, is what your brain is saying – how would you motivate your friend? How would you overcome their negative talk? That’s EXACTLY what you need to be doing and saying, for you.
– There’s a seriously cool app, called Zombie’s run! Load it up and off you go, and try not to get caught. This game works really well for fartlek training or sprucing up a long run you find boring (and believe me, it’s worked brilliantly for a 5-hour training run I had not too long ago!) and even works if you’re training on a treadmill, what level do you get to?
– They say in sports psychology research, that visualisation is just as powerful as training. Injured athletes rely on it for peak performance preparation for upcoming events when they can’t train for yet. So not only could this double up on your competitive edge, but it will keep our minds busy too. Imagine how you will be feeling to run past the marathon volunteers or thousands of spectators cheering you on as you pass. Or how it will feel to get that medal and celebrate with your family afterwards. Likewise, perhaps you are re-running an event for the second, third time and can imagine part of the route you found difficult last time around. Now in your training, imagine smashing that hill… so when it comes up on race day, you will be confident to hit it head-on.
– Being present, and in the moment are big buzz words lately in the health and fitness industry. And frankly, they deserve a spot in running the long runs. Being present is focusing on your breathing, or what is happening around you. The birds morning song, slow elegant fall of the leaves, how the long grass is swaying to the wind. These take your mind off being tired or bored and it will start to search for, notice and engage with each step.
– Got a favourite playlist? Audiobook or podcast? Try not to listen to a few episodes in the buildup to your long run. Having three 60min episodes of podcasts, back to back, are the perfect option to keep your mind busy. You’ve been eagerly waiting to listen, which keeps you motivated, and not only that, it feels like you are running with friends – light entertainment, and learning opportunities or hey, even get that book read via Audible! Keep your favourite music albums (or latest) for when you run, you’d be surprised the effect this has on your motivation levels and enjoyment!
– Think about what you plan to do after you run. If it’s more gruelling work then that’s not likely to help, so consider calling friends and planning a meal out? Prioritising your day makes a lot of difference to helping your mind get through your longer runs it gives you something to look forward to.
– If all else fails, you can always rely on the counting game. I run in the trails, so I focus on trees, or dogs, and count how many I see throughout the run. It might Lund extremely juvenile but it works. If you’re a road runner, pick out running wearing bright shoes, or certain car models that pass you by. And if you’re anything like me, you forget the number and spend the next 15minutes arguing with yourself, but hey, at least my mind is occupied, right?
Ultimately, my biggest tip is going to be, to cover up your Garmin watch (or turn off notifications) because there is nothing worse than clock watching. I don’t know how or why, but 10 minutes on the treadmill always seems like an hour? So step away from it and get lost in your route, your counting or podcast instead; whatever your weapon of choice. You’ll thank me for it later.
Keep going with your plan and I’m sure you will find your way to keep mentally stimulated throughout the hours of training.
Just remember, Your brain will ALWAYS give up, way before your body will!