Mind games to distract you on tough runs

Long distance running can be mentally challenging for even the toughest of athletes. Train yourself to overcome the pain on hard runs with our five mind control tips.

Mind games to distract you on tough runs

Running is often said to be just 10 per cent physical and 90 per cent mental. As well as training your body to handle tough situations, you need to train your mind to cope with running, too. We started a discussion thread so you can see what methods work for other Bugs and tell us what gets you through long or difficult runs.

Ride the train of thought

When you’ve reached a certain level of fitness, it can be very enjoyable to let your mind wander as you run, using that time to think through problems, review situations, or daydream about anything that takes your fancy. In fact for many runners that’s one of the best things about running!  

Distract yourself

Some days it feels easy, and before you know it you’ve breezed round the park and are back home feeling like you could have gone on forever. However, some runs are just tough – for whatever reason – requiring all your mental strength to get you through them. If your body is whining but you’re determined to push on through the discomfort, sometimes a bit of distraction can work wonders on your mind.

Listening to music or podcasts can do the trick. Bug member Philrun says, 'For any run over 2 hours I have recently started listening to audio books. Something I have to give full attention to. Definitely helps.'

Others like to do mental maths, calculating exactly how fast they have gone, or how much of their run is left.

Ceefin61 says, 'I count sheep.... or fence posts when I'm struggling up a steep hillside trail.'

Think positive thoughts

If you are drowning in negative thoughts such as 'I’m not a runner', 'I can’t do this', or 'I’ll never make it, it’s too far', a positive mantra can help. Just repeating to yourself 'I can do it' can change the way you’re thinking. Self confidence is one of the most powerful tools a runner can have.

If you’ve completed a race before, visualise how you felt at that finish line. Relive the glory moments, or tap into the satisfaction you felt at completing a previous run. Think about positive experiences you’ve had and the people who inspire you. It’s much easier to believe in yourself if you are in a positive mental state.

Break it down

It often helps to break the run down into sections of manageable distances. This could be three mile sections, or it could be to the end of the road, or to the next lamppost. 'I use the parkrun as the basic measure of distance,' says Rob K.

'So a half marathon is only 4 parkruns with a bit at the end.' For Vicky pixi it's a question of sections between familiar landmarks. 'I often break up the long run into sections. ie it's only 5 miles to there. Then when I get there, it's only a 3 mile stretch to get to there, and then just 2 more to get to there, etc.'

Be imaginative

Failing that, try some inventive mind games. Invent stories about the people you see around you. Play an alphabet game in your mind: think of something that you’ve seen on your run for each letter of the alphabet, or think of 26 things that you would take to a desert island beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

Count it out

If all else fails, counting your steps can help, it takes up just enough brain power to focus the mind, and it’s almost hypnotising. By the time you’ve reached a chosen number, you’ll have done a significant chunk of your run and you may well find you have snapped out of your negative mood.

'I tend to count the number of steps I am taking, get to 1000 and reset,' says Bug member Herbie Chapman. 'Might sound weird but it gets me through!'

Want more advice? Read Susie Chan's tips on to how to love long runs. These 4 hill and long run training tips will help you tackle the toughest runs with the right attitude.