Woman Jogger BlurCredit: www.sxc.com - user:arinas74

As a runner, you have good days and bad days.  Part of what makes the difference is how well you slept and thus felt when you got out of bed, the weather you're running in, and the route you choose to take. But what makes the biggest difference is your actual mindset while you're running. 

You have to think of not running.

Because when you do, you’re suddenly aware of the stitch in your side, the wobble in your knees, how much you wished you brought water, and the pain in your back. You think, I’ll take a short walking break at that tree.  Running becomes an unwanted chore.

But if you don’t think of running, your body just keeps going for longer than you thought you could.  That tree you would have stopped at doesn’t even register in your mind. You’ll have a better, more fulfilling run and get that great feeling of knowing that you can run your entire course without stopping.

What can you think of instead?  What will keep your mind engaged to the point where you can still check for cars at the intersections but can ignore how must distance you have left? There are a couple of options so try one, and then another, until you find one that works for you. 

1)    Music

A lot of athletes train to music, a upbeat song can help control your pace and make the work out more enjoyable.  But it can also serve as that mental distraction you need.  Focus on the lyrics of the song (or tune if there aren’t any words), pay active attention to the singer and the music in the background. Concentrating on what you're hearing will take your mind off your body.

2)    Audiobooks

If music doesn’t help, try listening to a story.  There are plenty of audiobooks for sale, and free options released as podcasts. (A personal favorite of mine is the Galactic Football League books by Scott Sigler) Books narrated by a male are best, as it’s easier to hear and concentrate on the words over the sound of your feet on the pavement. As far as subject matter, that’s a personal choice, but I find listening to sports stories to be the best option.  They’re filled with passages about doing your best and pushing your limits, and you’ll unconsciously think the same and run an extra block.  Plus, if you only listen to the story while running, that’s an incentive to get into a routine.

3)    Breathing

As odd as it sounds, focusing intently on one simple thing does wonders. Whenever I forget to charge my iPod, I focus on my breathing and do my best to keep it calm and even the entire run.  This usually involves counting like down in yoga classes: in for four, hold for four, out for four.  Obviously, a yoga pattern doesn’t work for running; I usually breathe in for three steps, hold for one, and breath out for three steps.  See what works for you, as your breathing should match your pace and stride.

4)    Write

Create things in your head, be they essays or fiction stories. Working on something in your head is a good distraction, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly time flies while doing it.  If you're not entirely sure where to start, try your current read.  Continue the novel from where you left off, creating an alternative ending if you will.  Or pick a movie where you hated the ending, and rewrite that. Creating a fantasy about running in a marathon, or excelling in a game if you run for conditioning also helps.  Plus, there is always people watching too.  Make up stories about the people you see on your run.

5)    Plan

Multitask while running!  Put together a menu for a party, come up with a plan for a weekend getaway, and make sure you get into the details to keep your mind occupied for your entire run.  Break down plans into what you'll need to buy, from where, and what you'll need to do, where and when.  I've come up with great day plans while running, be they excursions in a park or visiting a friend.


Like mentioned above, the idea is to distract your mind from the physical aspect of what you’re doing.  This way, you’ll be more likely to dismisses physical signs that encourage you to stop and take a break even when you’re capable of continuing. 


That’s not to say you should run till you collapse, if you get to that point none of these mind tricks will work.  Nor should they.  They’re options to help you improve your running without taxing your body beyond healthy limits.  If you exceed those, nothing you’re thinking about will be a proper distraction so you don’t have to worry about thinking to hard about any of the above options.  They’re simply mental tricks to allow you to get as much as you can out of your workout.

Also take note of where you're gaze falls while running.  Looking at your feet, or where your next step will be, brings the action of running to the forefront of your mind.  Similarly, looking too far a head can cause you to panic seeing at how much of a distance you have left to go.  I find looking at the ground about 3 meters away from where I am works best, but play around and see what works for you.