5 Mental Tricks to Keep You Running

mental running tricks

I recently saw a runner’s T-shirt that said, “Running is a mental sport. We’re all insane!” Obviously it was meant to be funny, but the first part of the quote is certainly true.

Whether you’re on the dreadmill, doing a long run, or running a race, you’ll most likely have those moments when you feel like you have nothing left mentally.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Mind over matter,” but of course that’s easier said than done. To make it work, you need to have an action plan for winning the mental battle.

It’s important to have several strategies that are ready to go when you’re struggling. (You may find some of them also work in non-running situations!) Try some of these mental running tricks to push through the rough patches.

1. Use a running mantra.

Pick a short motivational phrase that really gets you pumped and keep repeating it to yourself (or out loud, if you don’t mind some curious looks).

Mantras really come in handy when you’re dealing with some discomfort during a race or facing a monster hill on a training run. One of my favorites: “Dig deep.”

Always try to keep your running mantras positive. For instance, don’t tell yourself, “Don’t stop!” because your mind might focus on the word “stop” and tell your body to do just that. Instead say something like, “Keep it going!” Get more suggestions for running mantras.

2. Count your stride turnover.

Something as simple as counting can be the perfect distraction. Tally how many times one foot hits the ground in a minute, then double that number to get your stride count.

Do several stride counts during your run and see if you can improve your efficiency (the more strides, the better). An efficient stride count is 180 steps per minute — see how close you can get to that cadence. If you want to work on it, get tips on improving your stride turnover (and more running form advice).

3. Talk positive.

Negative thoughts can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you start telling yourself how bad you feel, it’s tough to break away from the feeling.

Change the conversation and banish negative thoughts. Even if you’re suffering, tell yourself things like, “I’m feeling good today.” You’ll eventually start to believe it. Get more tips on how to use positive talk while running.

Related: How to Combat Negative Thoughts When Running

4. Plan your treat.

Think about that post-run smoothie, late-afternoon nap, or dinner out at a restaurant. No matter how you reward yourself after a run, visualizing it can push you through a tough spot. Need some ideas for post-run treats?  Check out some of these.

5. Play the “this could be worse” game.

When I’m having a rough mile, I think of things I could be doing that are way more undesirable than running, like going to the dentist or cleaning the bathroom.

I think about times when I wasn’t able to run and how much I missed that feeling of my feet hitting the pavement. Before I know it, I realize how lucky I am to be running and the pain or boredom somehow disappears.

More Mental Running Tricks:

Running coach Christine Luff is an RRCA-certified running coach, ACE-certified personal trainer, sports nutrition specialist, and youth fitness specialist. She coaches runners of all levels, from beginners to advanced, who are training for races, from 5Ks to marathons.

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