Long distance running: The mental game

Your mind gives up long before your body does.

You may have heard that expression, and any runner who’s ever pushed past their limits, or dug deep to break through a plateau knows it can happen. But how do you train your brain to get you in that winning mindset?

From lacing up your runners and getting started, to making time even when there is none, to finding something that keeps you going when you feel like you’ve got nothing left — running is a mental game. Here are some tools and strategies that can help you push past those barriers and achieve more.

One foot in front of the other

When you’re starting a long distance run, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the distance you have left. It can be enough to make anyone lose hope.

Instead, break it down. It could be distance, like aiming for the next 5km. Or landmarks, like, once you get to the river, you know you’re halfway done. You could even use whatever you’re listening to, like an album, or a podcast, as a marker. Only two albums left — that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

At your lowest or most exhausted, simply try and get the next kilometre done. That’s it. And if you make that, you can make the next, and the next, and the next. Until before you know it, the finish line is suddenly within reach.

Focus inward

During a long-distance run, your mind is going to go places (probably, to ask yourself: why are you doing this thing at all?). Take that internal monologue and focus it on your technique instead. Fixate on your breathing, your strides, your posture. Is your pace right, or are you going too fast? Make the adjustments you need to. If there’s pain, or discomfort, acknowledge it. Accept it. Then keep moving. You’ve got this!

The dream is to enter your flow state where your mind isn’t throwing up barriers, and your body and brain are in sync. It’s here that running becomes the most natural, and your performance reaches its peak. Run with your run on your mind, and you’ll find time — and effort — disappear. Smile 🙂

You’re running a marathon. That’s huge. You’ve already done something rewarding, something not everyone can do. And you’re doing it as part of a group, together in pursuit of a goal. It’s fun. That’s as good a reason as any to smile.

Need more convincing? Well, check out this research. It showed that smiling can have all kinds of positive mental effects when you’re running, like reducing how much effort you think you’re putting in, strengthening your motivation, and even improving the efficiency of your run. So, show off those pearly whites. Especially when you least feel like it.

Self-talk matters

When the run gets hard, it doesn’t take much for the self-talk to become negative. When you feel your focus waning, there’s a trick you can use to bring it back. You just need a mantra.

Think of a few words that sum up your running on its best day. It might be something your coach tells you, a tried-and-tested motivational quote, or even just a simple affirmation like “You’re strong.”

Mantras are a lifeline — and they’re surprisingly effective. Studies have shown a marked performance increase for athletes that use positive self-talk compared to those that don’t.

Some tips, according to the science: Keep it third person, like you’d talk to a friend (“You’ve got this”), and if you do have those negative thoughts, try giving them a positive spin (“My legs are tired, but I will finish”).

Preparing for the big day

The lead-up to race day can be full of nerves and excitement. This time is crucial, not just physically, but also mentally.

Ideally, the days before your run are focused only on your run. If you can, plan in some time to “mentally taper” and get your things in order so your mind is fresh.

You’re going to face challenges during your run. When they happen, what will you do? Think about how you’ll respond to situations like negative thoughts, or pain, or slowness. Even simple things, like becoming distracted, are worth preparing for. Put a plan in place — “if X, then X” — and you’ll be well-equipped come race day.

Breaking through the wall

One of the most important things you can prepare for is hitting the wall.

Every runner, at some point, faces the wall (for marathon runners, often around 28km). It’s the point where quitting seems the most tempting, when your legs feel the heaviest and the self-doubt reaches its peak.

It could be nutritional. If your vision is getting blurred or you’re starting to cramp, you’re probably running low on glycogen. This is your body’s way of telling you to refuel, so it pays to experiment with nutrition during your training to help avoid the wall altogether.

The mental wall is where all your tools and strategies are put to the test. Focus on your technique, flash a smile, repeat your mantra and remember your ‘why’. That’s your lighthouse, the reason you signed up for this marathon and the personal significance it holds for you. Reminding yourself of these deeper motivations can take you right through that wall.

So, you can find the greatness that exists on the other side.

Bupa. Official Health Insurance Partner of the Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival

Translate Website

Send this to friend