Long Distance Running Is About Training Your Mind

Published on 12/23/2020

Whenever I tell people that I’ve run two half-marathons and hope to run a full marathon one day, they always seem impressed. They say how they could never run that far, and that they’d get too tired. It is an impressive thing, to run 21km or two and a half hours without a break. But not for the reason they think.

Training your body to run long distances isn’t that difficult. It takes time and effort, sure, but almost anyone could do it. You have to take into account physical limitations, but those aside most bodies have the capacity to run long distance. You build it up and train your body; you just need to grow the specific muscles for them to complete the task. Humans have done crazier things; they’ve managed to swim crazy distances after a shipwreck or stand for hours on end in a protest. Anything is possible.

The real difficulty lies in training your mind; this is what I always try to explain to people. I can train my legs to run, power through the blisters or shin-ache, but the trouble lies in the mental capacity. It is hard to run for two and a half hours straight, not for my legs, but my brain. I have to keep myself entertained for that entire time, and I have to keep myself motivated. Think about having a 10,000-word essay ahead of you; how do you even start? How do you keep going past the introduction?

When I start what I hope to be a long run, I find it hard not to stop soon into it. Not because I’m tired, but because my mind needs a break. When you focus too intensely on the run and how far you still have to go, it feels like an immense effort to continue. If you’re only on kilometre two out of fifteen, it feels like the end is so far out of reach. So the weeks spent building your endurance are all about training your mind. You need to work on your muscles and a major one in your mind.

So how do you do it? How do you get your mind to survive long-distance running? You have three options.

1. Quiet

The most challenging way forward is to embrace it. To use this as an opportunity to silence your mind or work through your thoughts. This is something to build up slowly, kilometre by kilometre, and involves transporting your mind away from the run. You can focus on other things happening in your life, or merely on nature/scenery around you. It’s almost a form of meditation, teaching yourself to silence the world. This can lead you to gain the most benefits from your run and to apply that lesson to other parts of your life. To do this, focus on stimuli around you, and try not to even look at the tracking of your run. Try to run routes that you either know the distance of or stop caring so much about distance. Focus on visualising everything around you, and practice this at home too.

2. Distracted

This is the most common tool for long-distance running and works through the wonderful invention of headphones. Plug yourself in and take your mind far from the run at hand. Many find music to be an excellent distraction for running, and you can either create your own running playlist or use one of the thousands readily available on your streaming service. Be sure to try different styles, as what you listen to generally may differ significantly from your prime running music. Is it pop songs, slow ballads or fruity beats? I know many people that insist on running to techno music, and I think it almost hypnotises them to continue. Whilst I always preferred lyrical songs so that I could lose myself in their voice.

Whilst I like music for shorter runs, I can’t stand it for longer runs. It gets too predictable, and I drown it out too easily. So what truly helped me to run my half-marathons was podcasts. Podcasts are great for distraction, as they keep you entertained and not focused on the present. You could go for crime podcasts; I actually ran my last half-marathon to the last episode of the Madeliene McCain story. You could also go for interview based ones or fictionalised podcasts. The choices are endless. This also allows me to feel more productive, as I’m learning whilst running. But others struggle to focus on the podcast and feel like they can’t get into it.

3. Manageable bites

This is the only method that involves anchoring yourself in the present and centres around breaking down the bigger picture. Let’s go back to our essay example. You have a 10,000-word essay looming ahead of you, so you focus on writing 500 words, then you write another 500 words. When you’re looking ahead at 500 words, or a kilometre, things don’t seem too bad. You feel more empowered and able to handle the task ahead. Do this with your run and break it down.

When I would run ten kilometres, I would focus on the three kilometres ahead of me. I am ⅓ of the way, I am ⅔ of the way, and I’ve finished my three kilometres. On to the next one.

You can break it down into whatever increments help you to stay focused on your goal and overcome the distance. This can also be time-based. An excellent way to build up this skill is to run on a treadmill and use the time/distance features to break it down. I like to do sprint intervals, as this allows me to really stay present and counting down.

By recognising your mind to be equally worked through long-distance running, you acknowledge the difficulty it faces and the rest it will also require. You rest your legs the day after a long run, so make sure to give your mind the same treatment. When a run feels difficult, recognise that this is your mind, and this how you keep pushing further. Practice different tools for achieving greater distances. Don’t forget that your mind being worked out harder also means getting to accomplish the post-run high and that training’s satisfaction.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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