When most people thing about long distance running, they imagine long runs that are hard on the body. And while this is certainly true, runners know that although distance running presents an incredible physical challenge, the key to success lies in your mental strength.
What is mental strength?
Mental strength means being able to overcome negative thoughts by ignoring them or replacing them with positive thoughts. It requires runners to be able to push those negative feelings or thoughts out of their minds and focus on something else.
In trying moments, runners rely on mental toughness to help them persevere and continue on. Our brains play a huge role in how our bodies feel, especially during long distance runs when the miles feel endless.
How is mental toughness involved with distance running?
Completing a long run is certainly a challenging physical task. As runners continue to increase their mileage, their bodies have to muster up new strength to continue. And many times – this challenge feels overwhelming.
So overwhelming, in fact, that many new runners feel they cannot possibly finish the run. Some runners give up, others create excuses, and many just quit.
However, the few who keep going usually aren’t able to do so because of a great physical advantage. Those runners are able to continue because they possess the mental strength necessary to keep moving through the tough miles.
We all feel like quitting from time to time. After all, if our goals don’t challenge us, they’re probably not big enough.
The secret to being able to persevere through those trying moments is often as simple as building your mental strength.
These mental tips will help you improve your mental toughness and conquer long distance running. Whether you’re training for a new goal race or simply hoping to make those long runs feel a bit easier, these mental strategies will help lead you to success.
4 Ways to Build Mental Strength for Distance Running
Create a mantra or affirmation.
There’s no doubt about it: long distance running is grueling. Not just on the body either – but on the mind as well. Whether you’re running alone or with a group, moving the same direction, at the same pace, for an extended period of time can quickly begin to feel monotonous.
As the distance increases, our mental strength begins to waver and we suddenly find ourselves contemplating a break, whether or not we can finish, or a combination of other negative thoughts.
During these periods of uncertainty (which are nearly inevitable), it’s important to have a source of strength on which you can fall back. As the body and mind both grow tired during a long distance run, resorting to a mantra or positive affirmation is a great way to maintain healthy energy.
Find a mantra to recite during your long runs, especially when things get tough, or repeat a positive affirmation that will keep you going.
For example, pain is temporary, I can do hard things or you are strong are all phrases that inspire a positive energy. As your mental strength begins to weaken, fake it until you make it. Repeat similar phrases to yourself as many times as you need until you begin to believe them.
Visualize a positive outcome.
Long distance running requires a great deal of mental toughness. Building that mental strength requires consistent effort, energy and perseverance. When you are faced with a situation in a long run or race that makes you want to quit, a simple mental strategy to use is to visualize a positive outcome.
No matter where you are in a run, visualize yourself finishing it with strength to spare. Picture yourself crossing the finish line, conquering your PR goals, or simply finishing up your long run this weekend.
Not only will visualizing a positive outcome encourage mental strength in the moment, but it will help keep your mind off the pain or thoughts of doubt that you may be experiencing in the moment.
They key to a successful mental strategy when running is to find a way to avoid focusing on the negative – and what better way to do so than to envision the positive (no matter how unrealistic it may feel at the time)?
Practice gratitude and purposefulness.
It’s hard to keep running when it feels like everything is going wrong or you’re suffering for no reason. Another simple way to build mental toughness on the run is practice gratitude and purposefulness on a regular basis.
Remind yourself that in every moment of the day, there is always something you can be grateful about. Having the physical ability to run, for starters, is something which many others cannot fathom. Practice gratitude for your health, location, family, church – anything good in your life – during your long runs.
Along with gratitude, it’s important to maintain a sense of purpose during your runs. Persevering through tough times is a lot easier when there is a distinct purpose and reason as to why you are suffering.
Keep in mind the reasons you started, why you set these goals to begin with, and what you are working towards in the moment. Recall these things to help gain mental toughness and increase your grit as you navigate the many grueling miles of long distance running.
Look back on past training.
What better way to maintain mental strength than to boost your confidence by looking back on past training? When things feel tough, a great way to foster the courage to continue on is to remind yourself of everything you have successfully conquered in the past.
You might remember a training run in particularly difficult weather conditions, a time you kept going when you wanted to quit, all of those finish lines you’ve crossed, or any other difficult run which you have completed.
Use these memories to channel mental strength in the moment, until you get through this tough mile.
Mental strength is key to success during distance running. When our minds are telling our bodies that we can do something, it’s amazing what we are able to accomplish.
Try implementing these simple mental strategies to build your mental toughness and conquer your long runs. It’s amazing what a difference these few simple changes can make for your mental attitude and confidence.
More mental strategies for long runs:
- How to Overcome the Wall in a Marathon
- How to Mentally Prepare for Race Day
- 5 Mental Strategies to Conquer a Marathon