What Distance Runners Think About on Long Runs

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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What Distance Runners Think About on Long Runs

Distance runners log hours upon hours of miles every single week and because running is often a solo sport, this allows plenty of time for thought and reflection. So what exactly is running through their heads (no pun intended) as their legs carry them through their training? It may be a bit different for every runner but there seems to be one common theme connecting them all: meditation.


Many athletes use running as a time for self-reflection, problem-solving and strategizing. In fact, many classify running as meditation, which is just one reason the sport can be a wonderful tool for those experiencing anxiety and mood disorders.

“The connection between mind and body in running and all sport is undisputed,” notes Under Armour athlete Alison Désir, founder of Harlem Run. “While our body is out there moving, it’s our mind — what we tell ourselves — that keeps us going.”

Désir admits she rarely runs with headphones, and instead uses her time running to think through solutions to everyday problems and check in with herself as to how she is feeling during the workout. “Increasing scientific evidence supports a strong connection between movement and learning and cognitive processing; I definitely find it to be true,” she adds.

Amanda Brooks, a member of the Under Armour Women’s team and the voice behind popular website Run To The Finish, also uses her time running to become more mindful. As a coach she has learned that mental training is actually the only training that truly matters. She teaches athletes to embrace every run — including the bad ones — in order to shift their mindset and enjoy their time running.

“In order to stay positive on hard runs, one of my tricks is to switch to a gratitude rampage; I start listing off everything from the fact that my right toe doesn’t hurt to how much I love my husband,” Brooks reveals. “It’s really hard to stay down when you find yourself smiling and coming back to the realization that it’s just running and it’s not that serious.”

Professional marathoner Nick Arciniaga, who runs for Under Armour and trains with Team Run Flagstaff Pro, echoes the idea of using positive self talk to work through a hard run. He uses mantras to get through workouts and races and uses his time running to plan race strategies and visualize race scenarios.


“I do find this very meditative; my train of thought drifts to different scenarios that could arise during any race and how I might go about succeeding in various situations,” Arciniaga shares. “For example, I currently think about my upcoming 50-mile race, what I would do if I were to race alongside the front group for the majority of the race and what actions I might take to beat them. I also think about the consequences of those actions if I make too strong of a move and end up getting caught. I do not always win when I imagine these races.”

All of this meditative state boils down to mental training, which, as these athletes have all admitted, is a key to success. There is no one right way to train your brain to get through an upcoming long run or push through the wall in a marathon, but there are some key strategies you can employ as you find what works best for your training style.


The phrase ‘mind over matter’ may not have been coined specifically about running, but it definitely could have been. You can be the best runner in the world, but if your mind has any doubt that you can accomplish the goals you have set, it is likely you won’t fulfill your potential.

“You can be at your personal peak in terms of physical fitness, however if your mind isn’t in the best place to support your goals, your performance and race experience can suffer,” cautions Terry Chiplin, founder of Active at Altitude and the athlete-focused mental training app activacuity. “I have long considered running — especially endurance running — as 100% mental.”

Chiplin notes that there are five strategies to focus on when mentally preparing for your next workout or race. These are:

  1. Make positive choices. Obstacles — such as inclement weather — will always present themselves as roadblocks in your running. You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react to it.
  2. Train your toughness. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and push yourself (safely) beyond your limits.
  3. Use positive self talk. Narrow your focus to the task at hand and talk yourself through the steps you can take to succeed where you are at that moment.
  4. Build your treasure chest. Keep a mental log of the times you worked through a tough situation and keep them filed away to dig out when you need a reminder that you can do hard things.
  5. Employ the power of visualization. Use your imagination to formulate a plan for any situation that could arise in advance so you are prepared to handle anything that comes your way.

No matter whether you choose to use one or all of these strategies, it is important you work on it every single day. Don’t wait until the last minute to train your mind or you will find your brain still isn’t strong enough when you really need that mental push.

“As runners, we tend to adopt a crisis-management approach to mental training. We typically wait until the last few days before a goal race to prepare mentally,” adds Chiplin. “This is also the time that taper tantrums make their presence felt, a time when it can be extremely difficult to be mentally clear, focused and objective.”

If you wait to cram your mental training into the final days before a big goal race, you will find the results aren’t sustainable in the long term. “I have also found that setting myself up for various race scenarios prepares me for most situations that occur during a race,” explains Arciniaga. “So when something happens that most people find unpredictable, I may be prepared for it and can adjust my race plan on the spot.”

This echoes what Chiplin works to teach athletes and serves as an important reminder that just as the pros use mental training, it can benefit even the newest runner. No matter the level, every runner experiences their own sets of challenges and roadblocks. Every runner can overcome them with a bit of forethought and preparation.

Photo Credit: @RunTotheFinish


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About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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