Last Updated: November 14th, 2021
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Running is a mental game…
Have you heard this phrase?
If you have running for some time, you have definitely heard this.
This mental strength can lend itself to other areas of your life and you can achieve tremendous things.
But how to develop it?
If you are unsure, then these 7 mental running strategies will definitely help you out.
Also, you may combine tips #1 and 3 to get a better result.
It will all make sense once you read the post.
1. Just 2 more steps
This is how I trick my brain to go a little further.
In other words, I’m training my brain to be stronger.
Now, what exactly is ‘Just 2 more steps’?
You have gone out for a morning run.
You have done your regular miles and it is time to head back home.
Every part of your being says ‘Hooray! I’m done for the day’.
When you are in such a mental state, you can train your brain to be extra tough.
Run for another 2 min, or 2 steps or 2 miles.
In other words, when you want to stop just do it for a little more.
This way you will have no other way other than to tap into the mental aspect of running.
This is one of the quickest ways to develop your mental toughness and you will achieve your goals faster.
What should you do?
- Let’s say, today is the day for your 5 milers.
- After the 5 milers, run a 200-meter negative split.
- If that is too much for you, you can run till the next lamppost or tree or building (The choice is yours).
- Utter the mantra ‘Just 2 more steps’ continuously.
This will give you the mental strength to finish this exercise.
This is a very simple exercise but is very effective.
2. Depend on your habits rather than your will power.
Runners are stubborn beings (me included and at times my stupidity is boundless).
We tend to rely too much on our will power.
If we fail, we literally bit ourselves up.
But do you know what is more frustrating?
Not to be able disciplined…
But why your will power doesn’t work every time?
Your will power is like an old battery which loses its charge fast.
You can focus it completely on one or two tasks and alas! your will power battery is dead.
What you can do instead?
Focus on building habits…
Remove any distraction that comes your way for your morning run.
For example, have your clothes and gear ready the previous night.
Put them in a visible location so that you are motivated to wear them in the morning.
This simple task can go a long way for your runner brain training.
It takes a lot of discipline to do the same task again and again at the same time of the day.
This small task can be hellishly boring and easy to forget and give up.
But if you can continue this for couple of weeks, you will develop the required mental strength and this will become effortless.
- Block your calendar for the same time of the week for the next 3 weeks.
- At that time choose your running gear and keep them at a visible location.
- Charge all your chargeable devices.
- Check the weather report for the next day and listen or read the latest news (read “running in the dark” article for a detailed reason and safety hacks)
3. Mental strength? It flows through your core
If you know me, you know that I love Yoga.
And this is a concept that I learned in Yoga.
Engaging your core will keep you more focused.
Because you will have to keep your core engaged. Duh!
But you know what?
Keeping your core engaged is a hell of a task.
There will be discomfort and you will want to let it go.
But again, follow tip#1.
Hold it for a short while more than you can.
It will have two benefits.
It will help you to tone up your abs and you will develop the psychological toughness of a runner.
How to do it?
- Before you start running, pull your navel towards your spine.
- Hold this for a couple of seconds and let go.
- Start running.
- While you are running do this core engaging exercise a couple of times.
Initially, you will not be able to do it for more than a couple of seconds.
Keep a mental or physical note of that.
In the next session, increase the holding duration by 10%.
Also, keep an eye on your breathing pattern.
Beginners tend to hold their breath when doing this exercise.
Instead, you should breathe normally.
This exercise is also extremely effective if you are struggling mentally with running.
4. Set a challenging, yet achievable goal
How to develop a strong running mindset?
Step outside your comfort zone…
But it should not be so much that you give up after 1 day…
It will defeat the purpose.
What can you do instead?
Stretch yourself a little at a time…
And for that, you should have a concrete and challenging goal.
Now, what do I mean by a concrete goal?
Goals which are S.M.A.R.T (I won’t repeat myself and bore you. You can read about setting S.M.A.R.T running goals here)
What about challenging?
I will provide you with some examples:
- Increase your weekly mileage by 10%
- Complete a Couch25K challenge
- Run 3 times every week in the morning before 6 am for 4 weeks.
- No Sugar for 30 days.
- Running uphill once a week.
- You get the idea…
If you want some more ideas to get your creative juices flowing, here is a list of running goals that I’ve put together.
The idea is to push yourself a little bit more every time you go out for a run.
5. Mental toughness through Visualization
I’ll not provide you with the self-help mumbo jumbo here.
However, there is a certain aspect of Visualization that I like.
It has the ability to boost your mood and state of mind.
Your brain often cannot distinguish what is real and what is imagination.
So, if you can vividly imagine with minutest details, it will trick your brain to feel that it is real.
And once your brain believes it, your body will oblige.
If you think that I’m making this up, read about the pro athletes.
Most of them have some kind of visualization ritual before they go to perform.
I can almost hear your next question.
What should I visualize?
The goal is to see yourself as a mentally tough runner.
Here the goals that you have set in point#4 will come in handy.
You should visualize achieving those goals.
Do this every day, first thing in the morning after you get up. It will take hardly 5-10 mins but will turn on your performance mode.
How to do it?
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back upright. (You can sit in a chair if you like. Don’t slouch)
- Take 3 deep breaths.
- Relax and let go…
- Now imagine yourself achieving your goal. How will you feel? How is the surrounding? Who is there when you have achieved your goal? Is it a sunny day? Does the weather have chill? Visualize as clearly as possible.
- Repeat the mental image as many times as needed to put you in the right state of mind.
More clear your metal image, more motivated you will be to achieve and you will also push yourself more to achieve it.
6. Run a negative split at the end of your run
Running a negative split is probably one of the most effective ways to develop your mental toughness.
Most probably you know what is a negative split.
However, I’ll explain it again here for those who came across this term for the first time.
What is running a negative split?
It is a running strategy where the runner runs faster in the latter part of the race.
What is the benefit?
It will make you a faster runner, but more importantly, it will push your limits and help you to break any mental plateau you have.
In other words! you will be one hell of a tough runner.
How to practice negative splits?
- Run the first part of your run as planned.
- In the second part of your run, increase your speed by 10% and finish the run.
- Split your run into equal segments. (Distance or time)
- Run the first half of the segment at one pace and the second half of the segment at a faster pace.
Both of these mental running strategies are very effective in developing your mental aspect of running.
7. Run in adverse condition – Most difficult mental running strategy
This is easier said than done and this is why I’ve listed it as one of my top 7 mental training strategies for runners.
Now, what is considered an adverse condition?
- You are too tired to run.
- You don’t want to get up in the morning.
- It is snowing outside.
- It is raining.
- Today it is very sunny.
- You are feeling depressed.
As you can see, adverse conditions can be both physical and mental.
However, if you push through it and run, your mind will be well trained.
This will push you out of your comfort zone and you will be tougher.
But how to do it?
What I’m going tell you may seem like a fluke.
However, please give it a try.
What should you do?
Visualize your goal.
But this time you may need more than just 5-10 min.
But do it till you are in your running zone mentally.
Now you can safely head out of the door and finish your run.
One of the things that have helped me with mental strength, in general, is meditation.
This helps you to focus more and stabilizes your emotions.
As a result, you can give more to whatever you set your mind on.
You progress much faster.
Meditate for 10-15 min every day. This small effort will go a long way in making you tough mentally.
How to meditate?
I’ll give you two ways.
- Lie down and place your right palm on your belly.
- Close your eyes and start taking deep breaths.
- Observe the up and down movement of your belly for 10-15 min (set a timer if you want).
- Open your eyes.
- Repeat this daily.
- Sit down in a comfortable position with your back straight.
- Relax and start taking deep breaths.
- Observe your breath.
- Observe how cool the air feels when you breathe in.
- Observe the warmth of air when you breathe out.
- Do this for 10-15 min every day (set a timer if needed).
However, both of these methods need separate 10-15 min other than your running.
If you don’t want that, then you can always try out any of the running meditation mentioned in this article.
This way you can utilize the same time for two different activities and yet reap the same results.
Blogger and a fitness enthusiast. She loves running and Yoga and everything in between. She started running to manage her weight and to eat to her heart’s content. A true foodie at heart she shares whatever knowledge she has gained throughout the years about weight management and fitness.