It might surprise you to learn that running longer distances is only partly a physical challenge. A huge part of covering more miles is actually about your mindset.
Lots of runners make the assumption that mindset is something you’ve either got or you haven’t. In reality, mindset is something you can exercise and strengthen – just like your running muscles.
Read on for our five top tips for honing your runner mindset and you’ll soon find yourself racking up some serious distances.
Embrace your inner cheerleader
What does your inner monologue sound like when you’re running? “Too slow”? “I’ll never manage this”? “There’s an even bigger hill around this corner”?
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to embrace your inner cheerleader. Countless studies have shown a link between positive self-talk and improved athletic performance, so why not work on developing some short, positive statements about your running abilities? They can be really simple – for example, “I can do this” – or related to your ‘why’ – for example, “Getting stronger every day” or “Doing this for Mum.”
It’s important that your affirmations are possible and realistic – sorry, but “I’m going to beat Mo Farah’s record” is unlikely to help you. Instead, over time, you can adapt and expand your mantras to reflect your real-life running experience. “I’ve done this before and I can do it again” is a good example of an affirmation based on fact – and facts are powerful motivators because they’re difficult to argue with.
Break it down
“There’s only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
This saying refers to all manner of challenges, and definitely to long runs. In other words, break it down. If you’ve got a 10k training run looming over you, break it down into four or five sections. Four 2.5 kilometre runs sound – and feel – less scary than a whole 10k.
Use a running app or watch or look for unofficial markers that one chunk of your run is over and you’re onto the next. At that point, take a moment to trick yourself into believing that this is the beginning of an entirely new run. Imagine that your legs are fresh and your energy high. It might sound daft but, over time, you’ll really start to believe it.
Another good tip is to try to have a different ‘distraction’ for each chunk of your run. Have a playlist or a podcast ready – something that feels like a bit of a treat. Go through the alphabet and think of a girl’s name and then a boys’ name that begins with each letter. Count backwards from 100 in 3s. Focus on rhythmic breathing.
Whatever you do, move your consciousness away from your body and how it’s feeling and focus on something else. Numerous studies have shown that this kind of mental trick can have a positive impact on your performance – give it a go and see for yourself.
No one said your long runs need to be super speedy. And it might sound obvious, but if you’re struggling, slowing down can be a good way to get your motivation back.
Make your focus distance, not pace. Make a deal with yourself to stay out for five more minutes, then another five. Try some of the distraction techniques above. The time will start to fly – and the miles will rack up – without you even realising.
Give yourself a get out clause
Some days are just harder than others. On those occasions when you’re struggling to get out the door, try giving yourself a get-out clause.
For example, if you’ve got a four mile run to do, give yourself a chance to quit halfway. Often, just knowing that you have that option is all you need to keep going. Once you’ve made it halfway, things often start to feel a bit easier.
Or why not try the ‘three pass’ approach – give yourself three ‘passes’ at the start of your run which you can use at any time. Your passes could entitle you to three short stops, or three points where you can slow right down and recover. Getting over an ‘all or nothing’ approach to running could be all you need – remember, progress beats perfection every time.
Another technique straight out of the professional’s rule book: visualisation. This works on similar principles to positive mantras, but for visualisation you need to focus on creating a mental ‘showreel’ of positive images related to running.
Got a big run coming up? Visualise warming up and setting off strong. Imagine yourself powering up every hill that comes your way. Most importantly, see yourself crossing the finish line. Really concentrate on the detail of the image – are your arms in the air? What’s the expression on your face? Use all of your senses: how does the weight of your medal feel around your neck? What does that cup of tea taste like afterwards?
Putting these tips into practise can help you build a bulletproof mindset. Let us know how your training’s going by joining the conversation over on social media.