Mind Games for the Long Run

Some Back Story
I haven’t been running for very long.  I started in May of 2013 when a friend of mine encouraged me to run a 5k with her.  The very thought of running any distance at all sounded like torture let alone slightly over 3 miles.  Thing is, I love a challenge.  I remember it vividly.  I immediately got on the treadmill at the hotel I was staying for a work trip and walked/slogged through 3 miles.  It took me almost 50 minutes but I knew I would be able to at least finish a 5K.  I registered for it.  I ran it.  Let me say that again… I ran it.  The whole thing.  At the time I had never run continuously for that long.  I crossed the finish line and was hooked.  Here is a little known fact: I don’t really like running that much.  I’ll do it and I have those runs that are just incredible and give me the euphoric runner’s high.  Most of the time though, my training runs are just okay.  I don’t love running.  I love racing.  I live for race day.  I know race day is going to be awful if I don’t get my training runs though so I make sure they happen.

The Long Run: Mind over Matter
Even better than a race day is a long race day.  I’d call the 10 miler my jam.  It’s the perfect distance for me right now.  It’s challenging, it’s long enough to feel like a major accomplishment without the pain and next day soreness of the half marathon.  I’m easing into those feelings about my half marathon but those extra 3 miles make a world of difference.

IMG_0284Total honesty – anything over 5 miles still feels like a long run to me.  I dread it, I get psyched up for it and eventually push through it but I rarely look forward to the long training run.  I’ve learned through trial and error that running is as much about the mind as it is about the muscles.  When I get that feeling of I’m too tired, I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore, I give myself a quick check up.  Legs: Are your legs sore/hurting/injured?  Heart: Are you gasping for breath/heart rate too high? If the answer yes I will slow down or take a walk break.  But usually the answer is no for both at which point I know it has to be in my head.  I need to bring out my mental tool box and fix what’s broken.

For me at least the very worst thing I can do is think about how much is left.  How big of a bummer is it when you’re tired and bored and just don’t want to continue and all you can think of is I have 4 miles left, that’s 40 minutes if I’m lucky, which is almost an hour, I’d really rather be napping for almost an hour, so how much is left now? 3.8 miles, ugh this is going to last forever!  I found myself in that exact predicament 3 miles into my 6 mile easy pace run last night.  I really had to dig deep to keep focused.  Here are some tricks that I use that have worked for me.

  1. Try to think of anything else other than the run itself.  I think about things I want to get done for the week, things that have happened at work, what I might snack on when I’m done running etc.  Usually that will keep me occupied for a little while but if not I proceed to #2.
  2. Look at things going on around me.  Try counting trees or look for interesting people to watch.  Try to remember everything as if there’s going to be a test when I’m done.  If I’m on the treadmill try different music or watching a movie.  When this isn’t enough it’s time for #3.
  3. I visualize that I’m playing a game and I’m collecting “points” (fractions of miles).  For some reason getting something feels better to focus on instead of thinking how much is left.  Focusing on what I already “have” and trying to increase some virtual high score that doesn’t exist helps me avoid thinking about how much distance or time still remains. If you’ve played the Temple Run app, that is a great visual.  In the game you get more points for running longer.
  4. This one’s a little weird so bear with me.  I call it “God’s Thumb”.  If I need to speed up a little (which I probably need to do if I’m considering stopping) I picture a giant thumb applying gentle pressure to my lower back.  This simultaneously fixes my form and speeds me up just a little.  It also prevents me from speeding up by sprinting which will only lead to an energy crash later.  If I try this and still feel like I have nothing left, am super bored and not enjoying the run I move to #4.
  5. This is when I start pulling out the big guns.  This is my last big mind game and I only use it when I really need it.  I visualize my running friends are right next to me.  I imagine my trainers and coaches are yelling at me to push forward.  And these trainers and coaches are sometimes people I have never met!  Dolvett from Biggest Loser and Chalene from BeachBody are just a few.  If they motivate me, they join me on my little mental cheer team.  I also picture my family waiting for me at the end of the big 26.2 when it happens.

These have worked for me although I know I’ll need to add to my mental repertoire as my training runs get longer  Share in comments if you have some of your own!

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2 thoughts on “Mind Games for the Long Run

  1. I got a kick out of this! Hey, whatever it takes to get through the run, right? This reminds me of my first marathon, which I ran extremely slowly. Suddenly, around the 8-mile mark, I found myself repeating over and over in my head: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” (Don’t have a clue why! I’d just heard it on an episode of Modern Family once.) Anyway, I think repeating the weird little mantra put me in an almost disassociative state where I was no longer focused on the insanity of what I was putting myself through. Whatever it takes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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