6 Ways to Distract Yourself When Running

Woman running with dog
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Whether you’re suffering through boredom or some physical discomfort during a run, it helps to try to distract yourself. Here are some strategies to try.

Zone Out

Zoning out may sound like a simple strategy, but the more uncomfortable you’re feeling, the harder it is to take the focus away from it. It helps to practice mentally checking out during training runs so it becomes second nature when you need it most. Start by paying close attention to your surroundings. Try really paying to focus on the sights and sounds you're passing. This is usually pretty easy to do if you're running in a race and there are lots of other runners, spectators, and other distractions around. If you’re having trouble letting your mind wander, start talking to yourself about what you’re seeing.

Use Music

Listening to music on the run can help you combat boredom and motivate you to run longer. Choose motivating songs and create a playlist for your workout; it will help prevent you from continually checking your watch to see how much more you have to go.

Try Disassociation

When I ran a marathon a few years ago, my legs were feeling heavy and tired as I approached the 23-mile mark. My husband and baby daughter were waiting for me there, giving me a huge boost. At that point, I forgot about my legs and thought about seeing their faces at the finish line. It worked; I was able to pick up the pace for the final three miles. The mental trick I used was disassociation, which is to focus on something external to keep your mind from thinking about physical pain. Mentally checking out can also help you push through boredom during long runs.

Think Hard

Another approach is thinking about something that requires a lot of focus. I find this works best when during treadmill runs when there’s not much to look at. Before I get on the treadmill, I already have in mind an email I need to write, a problem I’m trying to work through, or an important conversation I need to have. I’ll start plotting it out and, before I know it, I’m a few miles into my run.  Running can help you clear your mind and just give you a chance to really focus on a subject. I come up with some of my best brainstorms during runs.

Use Objects as Distractions

What works for one runner may not be effective for another, so you may have to try different objects or thoughts as distractions. I heard about a marathoner who put 13 pieces of tape on each sleeve and removed them one-by-one as he reached a mile marker. Focusing on strips of tape may not work for you, but keep experimenting and eventually, you’ll find something that gets you in the zone.

Talk to Yourself

Whether you think to yourself or actually speak out loud, give yourself a pep talk. Keep repeating your running mantras. Remind yourself what you've sacrificed to get to this point. Remember how you've run through fatigue and soreness before and how you can do it again.

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