5 Mental Tricks to Stay the Course


They say that running is mostly mental.

I don’t have great running technique, but I like to run. I’ve heard from countless people that the last six miles of the marathon is all mental.
–Apolo Ohno

It’s another free Friday from Cynthia from You Signed Up for What?, Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC, and Mar from Mar on the Run and the  Friday Five this week, and since I have a half coming up, I’m going mental. In a good way.

Words are powerful — forget the whole sticks & stones rhyme, because words can hurt. On the flip side, they can help. Big time!

I like to repeat mantras to myself: when I stop to eat or get water, when I’m tired, when I’m hurting.

A couple that I use:

  • I am enough, I have enough, I do enought, every day (that “have enough” hasn’t quite sunk in, but I keep working on it).
  • Disciplined, dedicated, & determined (I borrowed this from a local news channel commercial!)

The body follows what the mind believes
Or “believe it, achieve it” (another good mantra).

You know that point in a longer race — about three quarters of the way through when your mind suddenly wakes up and says what are you doing to us? Suddenly that pace that felt incredibly slow at the beginning seems to slip through our fingers (or feet, as the case may be).

It is a mental thing; your brain is trying to protect your body.

I find this is where having a race plan is helpful to me. I know what paces I’d like to hit, give or take. When I get to one of those late race slow downs, I simply keep repeating the pace I want to be running in my mind.

Somehow it seems to work for me. This assumes you are not injured or encountering really bad weather conditions, of course.

It’s not all about you
We tend to get too much into our own heads when we’re running/racing long. It’s all about me, me, ME!

Try taking the “me” out of your thoughts, and think about loved ones instead. Perhaps someone who is struggling, someone who is gone, someone who is sick. Actually picture them in your mind. Pray for them, if you’re the praying type.

You can try doing this freeform — just think of whoever comes to mind — or even pick out someone to dedicate every mile to.

Take in the sights
There is nothing like nature to lift your mood. So forget about how many miles you’ve run or have to run, forget about the chafing that may or may not be going on, forget about the IT band that is crying for mercy.

Look around you! Take mental photos. Notice the sky. Notice how the sun feels on your skin (maybe not a good idea if it’s a hot day). Notice any animals that may be out and about — sometimes I’ll play games with myself on a hard run, and count how many birds or squirrels or rabbits I see.

Change your mental picture
I will admit this is a technique I haven’t used yet, but it’s intriguing and I wonder if it would work.

If you’re having a bad race, replay all those positive visualizations you practiced before the race (you did practice some, right?).

See yourself running effortlessly, see the weather you consider to be perfect, see all the people cheering you on at the finish line, see yourself crossing that finish line with a great big smile on your face.

I’ll get back to you if I have to use this trick!

 What mental tricks to you use during a bad run/race?

27 thoughts on “5 Mental Tricks to Stay the Course

  1. I love that you included it’s not all about you. It is easy to get so inwardly focused during a race that you forget about everyone else. During my London race last weekend, it definitely helped me to focus on the fact that it was such a privilege to race. The mental aspect of running/racing is just as important as the training.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I’m gonna have one of those days tomorrow (rainy, cold, 10 miles). Not looking forward to it!

      It wouldn’t be that bad if I hadn’t just been sick.

      Well, it builds character, anyway. 🙂


  2. I’m so stubborn and competitive, I’m determined to finish the race no matter what. I try to have fun, and I always end up with Dory in my head. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These tips would be helpful even on a challenging training run. When things get tough, I just try to focus on one mile at a time. I also try to use my music and/or the scenery around me to distract me if I’m feeling any pain. Mantras help too, I really like “dig deep”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. GREAT list. Mantras are huge to me. I have a list that I go through. I actually used to have it as part of my daily routine to read through them and say them every day, as a way to make them engrained in my brain to make them easy when the running is not. I actually want to get myself back to that as part of my routine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I try to focus on the scenery. Like last weekend, I just looked at the lake and tried to forget about how hard the hills were. The same on training runs. I always stop and take photos. I try to remember that there’s more to running than your pace and finish time (I try..not always successful.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my favorite mantras is “Your body is loving you !” Every time I exercise and things get hard, that is what I tell myself. “This month’s choices are next month’s body” is another favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Make it count, make it count, make it count I used this one yesterday! And by this I mean — you travelled over here, sat in the car for 3.5 hours, spent your money on a hotel, dragged your husband with you, come on and make it count! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this. Brilliant. Lovely.
    I love the one about it’s not always about me me me. So true, yet sometimes we forget. Some runs when I focused on others, my Mom and Dad (passed on), friends who are running a big race that day, loved ones who are ill, holding them in my heart makes my run more beautiful.

    Mantras work. They really do. Find the one, or two, or three that work best for you and “run” with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are so right about the body follows what the mind believes. Just in this last half it got hard and all I could think of was I’m about done course I had several more miles to go. I changed my way of thinking, focused on the fact that I was pain free and we all know how great that is. In a short while I was back on track!

    Liked by 1 person

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