Whether you’re out for a casual jog, slogging through a long training run or competing in a marathon, your body sometimes needs help to make it to the finish line. That’s where your brain comes into play. By distracting your mind, you can shift your focus away from fatigue, boredom and nagging pain (of course, if you’re actually hurt, you should stop running), so you can keep moving forward to complete your run.
Below are seven mental strategies to help you stay engaged — or completely zoned out — on your runs. Try one or several on your next outing, and see how far you can go.
PLAY MENTAL GAMES
“One of the best things you can do is keep your mind occupied on anything other than running,” says running coach Chris Coggins. “If I need a distraction, I will read street signs, replay a movie scene in my head or make up stories about the people I see.” There’s not one right way to distract your mind, so do whatever feels right. If you’d rather sing a song or count your steps, go for it.
LISTEN TO MUSIC
Calling up your favorite playlist and listening to some motivating music is a great way to occupy your mind. Sing along with the lyrics or just let the music course through your body as you run. With each song, you’ll have another few minutes in your rearview. Listen to a whole album, and you can knock out an hour of enjoyable running.
SWITCH UP YOUR PACE
“Find a tree or a stop sign, and sprint to it,” suggests Coggins. You don’t have to set a stopwatch or even know the distance in this form of fartleks. The simple act of changing your pace with occasional intervals is enough to jumpstart your mind and body and eradicate boredom. “Run-walk intervals are also helpful, because you can choose shorter intervals like 2 or 3 minutes. And you can always go another 2 or 3 minutes.”
CONCENTRATE ON YOUR FORM
Distracting yourself is great, but you never want to compromise your form. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is by focusing intently on your form. Coggins suggests counting your steps to ensure your cadence is efficient, concentrating on your breathing or even breaking things down by body part. One mile, focus solely on your footstrike. The next mile, ensure your arms are pumping properly or your posture is upright, with your head and shoulders level. “It’s a great way to check in with your form, while also giving your mind something to do,” he adds.
HAVE A CONVERSATION … WITH YOURSELF
Running alone can get lonely, but being by yourself doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation. In fact, it may be the perfect time to hash some things out or solve a problem. Weigh the pros and cons of a big decision, fantasize about your next vacation or go over a few topics in your head you’d like to discuss with someone later. If you practice that conversation with your boss about why you deserve a promotion — or with your partner about why you need that fancy new running watch — you’ll be better prepared when the time comes.
FOCUS ON YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Whether you’re running around your neighborhood, along a waterside path or through the forest, there’s always something to look at and listen to. Take advantage of the opportunity to notice and appreciate your surroundings. Maybe your neighbor has a brightly colored front door. Perhaps the leaves are changing colors in the park. Did a few ducks congregate near the water? Focus on the environment to keep your mind active, and you’ll be less likely to get bored or to focus on less-fun aspects of running, like fatigue.
Meditating can be difficult even when you’re sitting in a quiet room. So, meditating while running may not be for everyone, and it’s certainly not something most people can accomplish right away. But with a little practice, you can hone those meditation skills while on the go. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate, but one popular form of running meditation is to be present and mindful as you run. Notice your breathing, footfalls and the breeze against your skin. By remaining present in the moment, your mind can go to a peaceful place, even as you pound the pavement for yet another mile.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.