Mental Strategies for Tough Runs

We’ve been blessed with some awesome running weather this week (mornings are in the 50s-60s), but man, this summer was TOUGH, am I right? I adjusted all my training paces by 10-20 seconds (or more!) and did my best to just survive my long runs. The struggle to push yourself longer or faster and to not quit during these tough runs though is almost always more mental than physical. Our bodies are so capable and strong, but our minds will try to decrease or shut off effort long before our bodies quit.  Sometimes, we need to heed that switch because it’s a signal that we’re over-training or dehydrated, but other times, we need to re-train the brain to achieve what we’re capable of.

Source: Pinterest

Anyway, this summer, I really had to train myself to push through uncomfortable situations (NEVER pain though – be smart!) and increase my mental strength. Here are a couple of the techniques/exercises that worked for me:

1. Count your steps/breathing – this is the #1 trick to keep me going on tough runs. There are lots of ways to count your steps – the easiest is to just count “1-2-3” for every three steps, like a waltz (this also changes the leading foot in your head, which can help balance your form). I usually count one number for every 4 steps (i.e. count “1” when my left foot lands, then “2” four steps after that-on the left foot again) going to 10, then repeating again. Focusing on the numbers going up helps me to forget about how much I want to quit ;)

2. Have a mantra – this is a phrase you repeat to yourself to keep you strong and focused on your goals. Lately, my mantras have been “I am strong” and “I am gritty”. On the hills, I like mentally chanting “I eat hills for breakfast” in time with my steps.

3. Focus on your running form – when I feel myself getting really tired, I’ll focus on different parts of my form for a minute or two each. I’ll think about using my quads to push my legs into the ground; keeping my back straight; relaxing my upper body; and pumping my arms at my sides instead of crossing them in front.running-form

4. Use music/ media! I typically only listen to music for tough runs or workouts so I don’t lose its “pump up” factor. I also started listening to podcasts on long runs because they helped me to think about something other than how tired my legs were and how hot it was and how nice an air-conditioned Uber would be…

5. Try to zone out – this is a weird tip, I know, but I found that sometimes the best way to stay focused was to think about absolutely nothing. My least painful interval workouts happen when I’m zoned out (not thinking about pace, my body, or anything – picture a cat staring vacantly into space).

How do you push through a tough run?


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