Blog post

How to train your mind for long distance running

Whether you’re gearing up for your first marathon or a 10km, long distance running is a mental battle as well as a physical one. Philip Clarke, Lecturer in Psychology at University of Derby Online Learning, discusses how to train your mind for long distance running.

By Dr Philip Clarke - 14 July 2017

If you’re training for a long run you will know by now it’s not just physical endurance you will need, your mind plays as big a role as your body which, in turn, means you have to train both. Training for hours on end can be quite lonely and boredom and negative thoughts can have a tendency to creep in.

Ensuring you have the right mindset on the day of the event comes from building the mental muscle in the training leading.

Here are a few ways to train your mind

1. Set yourself realistic targets – don’t fall at the first hurdle

Set aside plenty of time to train, don’t sign up to a marathon two months before and expect to have enough time to train mentally or physically. This means you can get comfortable with the training and distance and feel confident that you can complete it.

2. Motivation

Motivation is key to driving your mind and body. Think about why you’re doing this run – is it to raise money for a charity close to your heart, to get fitter for your wedding or event, or just for you? Know what you’re doing it for and keep that at the forefront of your mind. If you’re doing a long run and you get to a point where you want to stop, you’re going to have that internal battle of wanting to stop and wanting to keep going, and having that strong ‘why you’re doing this’ in your thoughts will help push you through. If you have a strong enough reason why you will find the “how” for completing. This will help you get back into a rhythm, and just put one front in front of the other and keep going.

3. Train your brain

Think of your brain as a muscle. Like any muscle, to develop it you’re going to have to work on it. Be mindful of what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s about understanding what you say to yourself and the impact it has on you mentally. This way you’re able to replace those negative thoughts and sources of stress into something positive, instructional and relevant to help to stay positive and persevere with your training and running.

4. Believe in yourself

Lots of people worry that they don’t be able to do it. If you put the hours in and train you can do it. If you have done the hard miles on the road, and stuck to the training plan, physically, nutritionally and mentally then trust in this and have confidence that you can do it.

5. Enter other sporting events as part of your training – it’s not all about running

Training isn’t all about long distance running, mix it up for your mind and fitness with a mix of sporting events to undertake as part of your training. This will help keep you motivated and mentally and physically sharp. Variety is the spice of life.

6. Run somewhere scenic

Take the time out to explore different routes and find some scenic routes, so many apps will monitor your distance so you can just enjoy finding new routes to run. If you stumble across a beautiful lake or woods, this will help take your mind off thinking about running, and fatigue or pain in the muscles you may be feeling. You may find you find it easier to run longer distances because of this. It’s not just a tick box exercise, training is enjoyable and all part of the experience.

7. Run to the rhythm

You will be running for a long time with little else to focus on except music – create a great upbeat positive playlist and run to the rhythm. But also take time out to soak up the atmosphere with no music on. The crowd will certainly give you the mental boost you need to keep going. When you’re training it can also be good to listen to things that help reduce the level of boredom that you may experience, there is a lot of content you can listen to such as music, podcasts, audio books etc. Make the most of your time training.

8. Think about the next focus point

Rather than focusing on the end, which could be hours away, look at where the water station points are and focus on the next one which could be in 5km rather than a few hours. Break your run into more sizable chunks as this makes it easier to remain motivated and focused on the task at hand, particularly if you’re starting to “hit the wall” mentally.

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About the author

Dr Philip Clarke
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Dr Clarke's area of expertise is in performance under pressure and the psychological predictors and mechanisms that are associated, specifically for 'choking' and 'the yips' within sport.

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