Mental Tricks to Get You Through a Tough Run

runners smiling

Sometimes a run feels hard from the start—maybe you didn't sleep well the night before or you've had a stressful day at work. Other times, the difficulty sneaks up on you. Things started out okay, but now you're barely halfway through and are already ready to call it quits. Sound familiar? We've all been there. The next time you're having a less than awesome run, call on one of these tried and true strategies, and there's a good chance you'll make it to the finish.

Repeat a Mantra

It's a good idea to have a few of these in your back pocket for difficult days. Think about what motivates you and what fires you up; if you're gutting out a tough workout, you might want to silently repeat your race PR or a hoped-for Boston qualifying time. Visualizing a goal and connecting it to what you're currently doing is a good way to spark motivation. Alternatively, a mantra can be a short phrase such as, "I love hills!" or "strong, powerful and smooth." You can even channel the name of a rival runner—whatever works!

Zone Out

Do you love listening to music on a run? Save a special playlist for only the toughest workouts—listening to those sacred pump-up songs will feel like a treat. Another mental tricks worth trying is to identify a fellow runner or landmark in the distance and imagine he, she or it is a magnet pulling you along. It sounds odd, but we promise it actually works!

Find a Friend

If you know a run (or race) is going to be a challenge before you even begin, recruit a buddy to keep you company. Even if they only join you for a few miles, having that extra motivation is crucial. If a real-life running bud isn't a possibility, consider a phone call with a friend over Bluetooth headphones or checking in via text before and after the run.

Break the Run Into Manageable Chunks

If your morning run feels like a slog, focus on little manageable chunks—say quarter-mile increments. Forget about your pace, and just worry about making it to the next intersection, the gas station up ahead or the lamppost in the distance. This tactic will help you stay present and not stress out about how far you have to go.

Use a Reward System

Let's say you have 10 miles left in your long run, but you are already o-v-e-r it. It's time to treat yourself! Start dreaming up the biggest and best reward you'll get once you're done. For example, if you make it another five miles, you can visit a fancy coffee shop. For each additional mile, raise the reward—a shot of vanilla syrup, a copy of your favorite newspaper or a freshly baked muffin. The promise of a post-run breakfast extravaganza might be all you need to get it done.

Fake It Till You Make It

If you're in a foul mood or your whole body aches, the last thing you'll feel like doing is smiling, but it just might help. Studies suggest that frowning during exercise might make it feel harder while smiling could make things feel a bit easier. It's worth a shot, right? And if you need more convincing, look to the world's fastest marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge. The Olympic gold medalist often relies on the smile technique during races. He says it helps him relax and work through the physical pain.

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