11 Ways to Distract Yourself When Running

Woman running with dog
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Whether you’re working through boredom or some physical discomfort during a run, it helps to try to mentally distract yourself. Unless you're hurt and need medical attention; in that case, don't try distraction. Stop your run and get help. But if you're just bored or tired, strategies like these can really help you stay the course.

Tune In, Zone Out

Zoning out may sound simple, but the more uncomfortable you’re feeling (mentally or physically), the harder it can be to take the focus away from that discomfort. 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 focusing on the sights and sounds around you. If you’re having trouble letting your mind wander, start talking to yourself about what you’re seeing. Even if you're running a very familiar route, challenge yourself to notice new things.

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.

This will help prevent you from constantly checking your watch to see how much more you have to go. Just make sure to stay safe and maintain awareness of your surroundings when using headphones.

Adjust Your Form

Check in with your body. This gives you something to do but also might help re-energize you. Are you breathing deeply enough? How is your posture? What about your stride? Count your steps to determine your stride turnover and work on improving that number on future runs.

Do a Little Math

If you're halfway into your run, what's the three-quarter point? Or the two-thirds point? How many minutes are left until you hit 80% of your run? Try calculating your pace or speed in your head. Or pick something to count, like bicycles, oak trees, people with hats, etc.

Play a Brain Game

Instead of numbers, play with letters or words—whatever is fun for you. Try the alphabet game (spot the letters A to Z, in order, on signs, passing cars, people's t-shirts, and so on) or make a mental list: U.S. presidents, Academy Award winners, baseball stats.

Anything goes when it comes to brain games. If you know a foreign language, practice conjugations, counting, vocabulary, or translating.

Run Intervals (Do a Fartlek)

Pick an object that you'll see regularly, but not too frequently on your route, such as a certain traffic sign. When you pass that sign, sprint for 20 or 30 seconds. This is called fartlek training and can even help improve your endurance.

Try Disassociation

Focus on something external to keep your mind from thinking about physical pain or boredom. Maybe it's a loved one waiting for you at home, the movie you're planning to see later, or even just the hot shower you'll be enjoying before you know it.

Think Hard

Another approach is thinking about something that requires a lot of focus: an email you need to write, a problem you're trying to work through, or an important conversation you need to have.

Running can help clear your mind and give you a chance to really focus on a subject. You might find yourself doing your best problem-solving during runs.


Keep your eyes on an object in the distance and try to clear your mind. Focus on physical sensations, like your breath or your feet hitting the ground.

Repeat your running mantra if you have one. When your mind returns to your boredom or discomfort (and it will), keep steering it back to your breath.

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. For example, one marathoner put 13 pieces of tape on each sleeve and removed them one by one as he reached a mile marker.

Strips of tape may not work for you. But keep experimenting and, eventually, you’ll find something that gets you in the zone.

Be a Cheerleader

Whether you think to yourself or actually speak out loud, give yourself a pep talk. 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. Keep up that positive chatter. You'd be surprised at how effective it is, even if you feel silly.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Markell J. Can listening to music improve your workout? National Center for Health Research.

  2. Orthopedic Physician Associates. How to run properly. Published September 18, 2019.

  3. Kumar P. Effect of fartlek training for developing endurance ability among athletes. Int J Phys Ed Sports Health. 2015;2(2):291-293.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The truth behind 'runner's high' and other mental benefits of running.

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