The long run is undoubtedly one of the most important phases of any running journey. It’s where you can build your endurance, build serious fitness levels, and learn valuable life lessons. But it’s also a time when the mental challenges can be the greatest. Learn how to stay mentally tough in the long run with these four tips and tricks.
8 Tips to Overcome Mental Challenges
A marathon is a big deal. The mental challenges are no different than any other challenge you’ve faced, though—so it’s all about perspective and setting yourself up for success. Here are some key tips that can help you stay mentally tough throughout your long run
Be OK with being uncomfortable
If you’re not used to running long distances, you’re going to have some mental challenges along the way. A huge part of training for a marathon is learning how to be uncomfortable, and learning how not to quit when your body is screaming at you (and sometimes begging you) to stop.
Set short-term goals
In order to stay mentally tough, you’ll need some shorter-term goals to keep your mind focused on race day. Instead of looking at long runs as only a time for training, think of them as part of your mental preparation. It’s great if you can plan a mid-week or weekend race that allows you to make strides toward your marathon goals. This will also allow you to include some shorter workouts and get more mileage into your week.
Track your progress
When you know how you’re doing on a particular goal, you’ll be better equipped to overcome challenges. And when those challenges come, they won’t blindside you as much; you’ll already be more than half-prepared for them. Plus, tracking your progress can give you greater ownership over your results and help prevent feelings of disillusionment. For example, if one week into a running program I find that I’m not making as much headway as expected, I know that next week is going to be a doozy of a workout (you want high expectations—but not unrealistic ones). When it comes time for my weekly run or workout, I’m mentally prepared because my last session wasn’t very good—which means next time will be better.
Work on focusing on your breathing
When you’re running at an easy pace, chances are you’re only using a few of your breaths per minute. Try consciously focusing on your breathing rate. Every few minutes, take a look at how many times you’ve breathed over the last 30 seconds. Are you able to count 20 or more? That means you’re taking deep breaths and probably feeling pretty good about yourself. If it’s fewer than 10, then work on slowing down and focusing on your breath as it goes in and out of your body. The slower you go, the easier it will be to focus on one thing—in this case, your breathing—and make sure that you’re doing it right.
Start with shorter distances
While it might be fun to sign up for a big, long race—like a marathon or half-marathon—it’s important that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. When learning how to stay mentally tough, it’s best to start small. Commit yourself to running 5k races and 10k races before moving on. And set some realistic goals—don’t use these early races as training runs (even if they happen to serve that purpose). You want those experiences to be about showing up, doing your best, and celebrating at the finish line with a sense of accomplishment.
Ask for help
Running is a tough sport and training for a marathon or half-marathon is a daunting challenge. If you’re running with others, ask one of your friends how they stay mentally strong throughout long runs. Everyone has their own little strategies, but that might be just what you need to pick up your spirits. Of course, if you don’t have anyone around who’s willing to chat (or if you don’t have many friends at all), take some time to reflect on what gets you through those longer sessions. Is it talking about TV shows or movies? Taking yourself out of your current situation and focusing on something else? Is there someone specific who motivates you when things get tough?
Always focus on what’s ahead
One of the biggest mistakes runners make when they’re struggling through a long run is to look too far ahead. You’ll often hear people lamenting I have five miles left, I can’t do it! but these are often your easiest miles. For most runners, that means it’s time to get into cruise control, because you know you can run for at least another hour without any problems.
Know that mental strength comes from within
Although keeping your emotions and mental toughness under control is often a difficult task, there are ways that you can mentally prepare yourself for any running scenario. As humans, we’re natural habit-forming creatures, so try making small tweaks like taking deep breaths or saying positive affirmations before your next long run. These small changes can make a big difference in your ability to remain focused on the task at hand. It may sound silly, but many successful athletes swear by these types of mental tricks when it comes to staying mentally tough during their long runs.