Mental Workouts for Runners

Mental Workouts for Runners {Run It}

You can log every single run in your training plan perfectly, but if you are not a mentally strong runner, you will struggle to achieve your goals on race day. This month’s Run It Round Up brings you a different type of workout to make you a stronger runner – mental workouts for runners. Today you will find tips from five other running bloggers and me about mental workouts we use to strengthen the mind for when the miles are challenging.

Mental Workouts for Runners

Dedicate the Miles

The pain of racing or a hard workout hurts. Your muscles ache in places you never quite realized they could ache, while your brain pleads with you to stop now. Racing is a self-inflicted suffering and what helps is to dismiss the notion that all suffering is intrinsically bad. Some suffering is evil, but other types of suffering work towards a good end (such as childbirth or running a marathon).

An effective method for coping with suffering is finding meaning in the pain. Dedicate those hard miles to someone you care about or offer up the uncomfortable miles as a prayer. This can be as spiritual as you choose to make it, but this technique will both distract your mind from the pain and give you a reason to keep pushing when everything hurts.

Brace Yourself

Bracing is what I like to think of as realistic visualization. Visualization can be tricky, because can visualize a marathon feeling  like sunshine and rainbows all you want, but it will never feel that way. If someone tells you that racing at all-out effort for any distance does not hurt at some point, they are either lying or suffering from endorphin-induced amnesia. Whether it’s a mile race or a marathon, there will be miles in every race, usually near the end, where your muscles hurt and you want to slow down or stop.

When preparing for a race and visualizing yourself on the course, include these miles. Anticipate that there will be miles that are hard and visualize how you will respond to them. Rehearse mantras, imagine yourself pushing through without slowing down, and being proud of yourself at the finish line for not making the choice to give up.

Control What You Can

Running hard can be intimidating because you feel out of control once the lungs begin to burn and the stomach begins to turn. Regaining control over the run will make you a mentally stronger runner. The next time you begin to feel out of control during a race, focus on what you can control. Count your inhales and exhales to regulate your breathing, count your steps to focus on your cadence, or focus on passing the runner in front of you – all things within your control.

Train Your Mind and Body Together

In order to become a mentally stronger runner in racing, you must practice it in training. These mental workouts for runners combine a specific training stimulus – intervals, long run, etc. – with the mental demands of staying comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

Embrace-the-Pain Long Run

The most mentally (and physically) challenging section of a race are the final few miles, when everything hurts yet the finish line is not in sight. Progression long runs let you practice the grueling finish of a race in training and know how to mentally cope with the burning discomfort of the end of the race (without the physical toll of racing). Add a few miles at goal race pace to the end of a long run every couple weeks, gradually increasing the distance until you can do 8-10 miles at marathon pace at the end of a long run or 4-6 miles at half marathon pace at the end of a long run.

Hammer Intervals

If you commonly slow down at the end of a 5K or 10K, this is workout will help you mentally endure the discomfort of the end of a short and fast race. This workout applies a simple twist to your normal speed workout. During a set of intervals on the road or track, run the second-to-last interval harder than the rest (hammer it out, hence the name). For example, if you are running 8 x 2 minutes at 5K pace, attempt to run the 7th interval at 3K or even mile pace. You will still have to run the final interval at 5K pace, which makes the last two intervals of this run very hard.

Your Least Favorite Running Workout

A majority of your training runs are catered to your strengths, but the workout that scares you will make you more resilient. Do a set of hill repeats or a continuous tempo run – whatever workout always makes you nervous to see on your plan.

Such a strategy may sound sadistic, but you will learn two valuable aspects of mental strength. The first is that you can push through discomfort and keep going. The second is that a run or a race is only as intimidating as you let it be and that you are in control of the run – not vice versa.

Want more tips on how to become more mentally comfortable with being physically uncomfortable? Of course you do! Check out my fellow Run It bloggers’ mental workouts for runners!

Allie shares how mental toughness can sometimes mean choosing not to race: 

Mental Workouts for Runners {Run It Round Up}

Sarah has three tips to help you become a mentally stronger runner:

Mental Workouts for Runners {Run It Round Up}

Carly provides key mental workouts, including visualization: 

Mental Workouts for Runners {Run It Round Up}

Angela shares her favorite mental workouts for runners:

Nellie shares nine powerful mantras for runners

You can find past posts from the Run It Round Up here:
Rave Runs
Surviving Summer Running
Summer Hydration Tips 
Treating Common Running Injuries
Best & Worst Racing Advice 
Staying Sane on the  Treadmill
Winter Running Gear

Linking up for Coaches’ Corner and Wild Workout Wednesday

What’s your least favorite type of running workout?
What has helped you become a mentally stronger runner?

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22 Responses

  1. The more I do hard workouts and races, the better I am at handling them mentally. Its been so long since i did a challenging workout that I will have no idea what to expect when I start to do them again!

    1. Hard efforts definitely get easier with practice. Those first few hard workouts may feel extra challenging, but then I am sure you will get more comfortable with them quickly!

  2. I think a lot of times runners don’t realize they are already training their minds out on the run by what they’re telling themselves! I want newbies to be careful what they’re saying up there because the body is listening!! You make so many great points here – for new and (ahem) older/more experienced runners alike.
    Love this link up!

    1. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you can’t do a run – I agree that that’s the hardest part about adding in challenging workouts for new runners. And thank you!

  3. YES to you can’t control everything. My very first half marathon was in a MONSOON and I learned a TON about what mental toughness is that very day.

  4. Mental toughness is such an important part of running! Control what you can is a great reminder. I like visualization too. Thinking about crossing the finish line is a great motivator! Thanks for the tips!

  5. I love the idea of dedicating miles to specific people. I did this for the first time during my last half marathon and it worked quite well… it gives you something to focus on 🙂

  6. There’s always gonna be stuff you cannot control (weather, terrain, etc.), but if you learn to cope with what you have, all (usually) is well. I love the idea of running the next-to-last interval really tough…that gives you a tiny bit of an “‘easy” ending (though it still should be tough). 😉

  7. I love the point about training the mind and body together. I try to be more mindful on tough training days of my thoughts and getting them to a more positive place in practice for race day.

  8. I think I was built with mental toughness because I usually have no problem doing the work. The problem comes when the weather is unfavorable and I have to really convince myself to run.

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