12 Mental Tips and Tricks for Long Runs

Long-distance running can be as much a mental challenge as it is a physical test of strength and fitness. Some runners find that their body is willing to run longer, but it's too hard to keep going mentally. Try following these long run tips to help with mental training .


Talk to Yourself

a sporty young woman runs through the city
Justin Case / Getty Images

If you're running alone and struggling, give yourself a pep talk. Tell yourself that you're not physically tired—you're just mentally fatigued and you can push through it. Say to yourself things like, "I'll have some water in five minutes—that will make me feel better."

Another way to employ self-talk is to practice gratitude. Remind yourself that you get to run, rather than have to run. Enjoy and be grateful for the ability to move, the endurance to go far, and for the time, scenery, weather, and training that you have in this moment.

If you're doing your longest run ever, remind yourself how proud you'll feel when you're finished.


Break Up Your Run

Dividing your run into smaller segments will make the distance feel much more manageable. For example, if you're running 20 miles, think, "Okay, this is four 5-mile runs." At the start of each new segment, visualize yourself just starting out on a new run with fresh legs and just focus on getting to the end of that segment.

Mark checkpoints for yourself to complete mini goals along your route. Upcoming milestones like a special tree or a statue along the route, or running for five more minutes or until the end of the block can be motivating.

If you're running on a DIY route (not in a park or on an official running route), create your own aid station for supplies and to revisit as a goal. Run a loop or an out-and-back route that takes you from your home (starting point) to your car (halfway point) and back, where you can check in as a goal. Or, have a friend meet you halfway into your run at a predetermined point.

Another great mental trick is to convert a miles goal ("I want to tackle 10 miles today") to a minutes goal ("I want to run 120 minutes today.") or vice versa. That way, if your next goal is 3 miles away, you can mentally strategize, "That's only a half-hour away."

Avoid constantly checking your watch or running app to check your progress. You don't want to fall into the "watched pot never boils" trap, so hit "start" and put the phone away during the run.


Embrace the Challenge

As you're doing a long run, remind yourself that it's not easy to train for a long-distance event. If it were, everyone would do it, right? Remind yourself that you're taking on a challenge and the difficulties you face will make your accomplishment even more worthwhile in the end.

While taking on a multi-mile route, also remember that you can—and should—go as slow as you need to. Long mileage is all about endurance, not speed, so if you're struggling to keep moving, slow down. Run at a recovery pace, take a walking break, or even pause to sit down for a few minutes if that's what your body needs. Once you've caught your breath and relaxed, resume.


Find a Mantra

Picking a short phrase, such as "One step at a time," that you play over and over in your head while running can help you stay focused and centered. It can be your inner motivation when you need it most. You may already have a favorite phrase to use as a mantra, but if you don't, check out these sample running mantras and marathon quotes for inspiration.


Use Imagery

When you hit a rough patch, try to imagine yourself as an Olympic athlete who is headed towards the finish line. Envision your running form as smooth, graceful, and relaxed.

Tune into your senses and practice visualization techniques for athletes to imagine yourself hitting a major milestone, grabbing that finisher medal, or simply making it to the next mile marker.

Think of a runner who you really admire and imagine yourself running just like them.


Play Counting Games

If you run where there are a lot of other runners, try this game. Pick out a specific article of clothing, such as a white running hat, to look for during your run. Then count how many runners you see wearing it. If you're running past or by other runners, remember that you're part of a community and become empowered by the shared bond you have.

If you do a lot of running on the roads, you can also do this with cars of a certain model or color. Passing through a popular walking trail? Count how many dogs you see or the different types of trees you spot.


Make Post-Run Plans

It's great to decide what you want to do after you finish a run, especially if you're running in the morning. Ponder something basic such as what to make for dinner. It helps you organize your day and gives you something to look forward to after the run.


Visualize Your Race

If you're training for a race such as a marathon, picture yourself running the course—every mile—and crossing the finish line. Picture how you want to pose for your photo as you run through the finish. Try to see the clock with your goal time (if you have one) displayed.

Imagine what you'll be thinking as a volunteer puts your race medal around your neck. Think about how it will feel to see your loved ones at the finish line cheering for you.


Use Your Ears

If you're looking for more auditory motivation during your long runs, bust out the headphones. While some sanctioned races do not allow for headphone or earbud usage on the course, using headphones safely and with caution during your own personal runs could be a great way to embrace distractions and motivation.

Does music motivate you to move? Do podcasts distract you from the running task at hand? Do audiobooks help you visualize stories? Experiment with different audio content on your runs to see what works best for you.

If your run goes for an hour or more, consider trying multiple media. Begin with a podcast during your warmup miles, then switch to music when you're beginning your tempo. Maybe you run sans music for the majority of the run and only turn up the jams once you hit a wall. No matter your strategy, a pair of running headphones and some music or audio can be a game changer for your long runs.



Proper breathing technique is critical to long runs. If you're going for distance and building endurance, breath work can help you properly get the oxygen your muscles need.

Practice different breathing techniques during your training. In through the nose, and out through the mouth is the go-to running breathing strategy for long distance running. If you're having trouble finding steady breath, slow down and pair your inhales and exhales with your footstrike. Every time your left foot hits the pavement, inhale. When your right foot strikes, exhale.


Try a New Route

If you're training for a long-distance race such as a marathon, chances are you're tackling the same route throughout your training cycle. To fight boredom and monotony—and to keep yourself on your toes—choose a new route.

Try an entirely different path, or simply take a short detour on your regular run and explore a new area. By switching up your long runs, you'll keep your mind alert as you deviate from your routine.


Don't Go It Alone

If you tend to take your long runs solo, try joining a running group or doing the run with a friend. Running alongside a partner who can challenge you or keep pace with you will naturally motivate you to keep going. You can also rely on one another when the run gets tough and share in the successes when you cross the finish line or hit your mile goal.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.