Mental Tricks for Running Races

Most runners have hit a rough patch at some point during a race. It's important to plan some strategies for when it gets tougher so you can push through. When you find yourself struggling during a race, try some of these mental tricks to get you to the finish.

Give Yourself Mini-Goals.

runners in race

If you're really struggling, don't focus on how much farther you have to go. Just worry about getting to the next mile marker, the next water stop, or another landmark. Once you reach it, pick another goal and stay focused on that.  Keep giving yourself small goals, so you don't feel overwhelmed by thinking about how far it is to the finish line.

If you're running a long race such as a marathon, start breaking up the race into smaller segments. It will make the distance feel more manageable. At mile 17, for example, think, "One ​six-mile race, then it's just about a 5K to go."

Focus on the Positive.

marathon runners
Getty Images

Don't think back to bad races or terrible training runs in your past. Instead, focus on those races or runs when you felt really strong and confident and imagine yourself running the same way you did then. Remind yourself that you've had strong runs in the past and they've helped you prepare for this challenge.

Go Fishing.

Focus on someone in front of you who you think you can catch. It helps if the person is wearing a bright color or a shirt that stands out, so you can easily keep them in your sight. Imagine you're casting out a fishing line and hooking that person. Then picture yourself reeling that person in, as you keep getting closer and closer to him. When you pass him or her, pick out another runner and continue the fishing game.

Keep Repeating a Mantra.

Marathon runners
Napa Valley Marathon

Picking a short phase, such as "One step at a time" or "Strong or steady!" 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. Mantras can be especially helpful when you're getting close to the end of the race and you keep repeating, "I can do this" or "I am tough", to push yourself to the finish line. You may already have a favorite phrase to use as a mantra, but if you don't have one, check out these mantras for runners or quotes about running motivation for some inspiration. 

Talk to Yourself.

Bruce Leighty/Photolibrary/Getty

Who cares if the person running next to you thinks you're crazy? Sometimes giving yourself a little pep talk and saying things such, "I can do this!" or "I'm staying strong" can help you through a rough patch. Remind yourself what you've sacrificed to get to that starting line and how crossing that finish line is going to make it all worth it.

Tell yourself that you're tough enough and strong enough to make it to the finish. Remember how you've worked through fatigue during your training runs and how you can do it again.

Distract Yourself.

Race spectators cheering
Dream Pictures/Ostrow

Try to take attention away from how you're feeling by focusing on everything outside your body. Check out the scenery -- the more you pay attention to the details, the better. I always like to look at the spectators' faces and see them smiling and cheering, or read the funny signs that they're holding.  It helps me take my mind away from any discomfort I'm experiencing. Try to make eye contact with a spectator -- even if you don't know the person, you'll feel like he or she is your own personal cheerleader.