Mental Games to Play While Running : Adapt and Overcome the Adversity

[7] Mental Games To Play While Running

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Whether you are new to running or have been doing it for years, you probably heard the phrase:

"Running is 90% mental and 10% physical."

I have to say I agree with this statement.

Now don't get me wrong, you must have strong legs, as well as a strong back and core to be a good runner. 

However, your mind can defeat you faster than anything no matter what shape you in.

This is why training your brain to run is just as important as training your body.

Because never forget, the body will do whatever the mind tells it.

So if you can adopt a strong mental game, then you will be able to make it through any run.

Running is hard and you are going to get fatigued and that's when at some point you will probably start to question why you ever started in the first place.

Here's where you need to be able to distinguish between perceived exertion and actual exertion. 

This is best done by using a fitness watch with a heart rate monitor.

If you think you're dying but your heart rate is only at 75% of your max, then this is your brain trying to trick you to stop.

Devices like the Fitbit 3 are great for letting you know how much you can push yourself or when you need to slow it down.

Then you need to have some mental games to play while running in order to distract from the discomfort.

This comes in really handy on long runs and even on short ones when you not quite feeling motivated.

Here are 7 powerful mental games to play to get you threw those tough miles.

1. Use Positive Mantras

When you start to fatigue, your brain will tell you to stop or start walking because it's number one goal is to keep you safe.

This is where you have to trick you mind into thinking something else. 

Tell yourself you feel great, you're light on your feet, or your muscles are filled with energy.

Find something that will inspire you to keep running and then continue to repeat the phrase.

And remind yourself that you're a total rock star for doing something that a lot people can't.

2. Practice Gratitude

This is important to do every day but will definitely help you keep going when you feel like quitting.

Don't beat yourself up for getting tired or slowing down or not performing your best.

Instead, thank your body for being able to do this in the first place. Then start naming all the people and things you're thankful for in your life.

This will keep you positive and help prevent the negativity from creeping in when you get tired and your muscle start to hurt.

3. Give Yourself Permission To Stop 

I know that sounds counter intuitive but hear me out. No matter how long you've been running, some runs are just going to suck.

And if you're new to running, then this will probably happen more often. Remember, if it was easy everyone would do it.

So if you're struggling, then tell yourself you just have to go to a certain point, then if you still feel that bad you can walk or rest.

This takes the pressure off you and will provide some relief. When you get to that point, you'll usually find some motivation to go a little further. 

4. Do Some Math

Most people don't like math problems, but it's a great distraction when you're running.

You can try some long division, like divide 756 by 13 then create more complex ones as you go.

Or calculate what your pace per mile needs to be for different  finish times. 

This will challenge your brain and keep your mind focused on something other than how you physically feel.

Try visualizing yourself doing these problems on paper.

This works great, especially when you're fatigued or encountering bad weather or just plain bored. 

5. Practice A Speech

Imagine that you have to give a speech at you're best friends wedding or say you're presenting a coworker or colleague with an award.

Plan out what you're going to say, then picture yourself giving the speech.

You can also do this with a presentation you might have to give at work.

Again you're trying to break up the monotony of those longs runs and forget the discomfort you're feeling.

6. Play The Name Game

This is a fun and carefree way to help the miles go by faster. As you pass a fellow runner, smile and wave  as if you know them.

Then say to yourself, "Oh that's Kathy with her dog, Bailey and she's running 10 miles today."

You can even imagine the name of the race she is training for. Sounds silly but if you're on a busy trail, you can really keep your mind occupied for miles.

Plus an added bonus, smiling releases endorphins or your "happy hormones" which will help improve the way your body is feeling.

7. Visualize The Finish Line

If you're training for your first distance race, then this can be extremely helpful when your logging those long miles.

Remember why you chose this goal and how great of an accomplishment it will be when you achieved it.

Visualize yourself sprinting through the finish line, feeling strong and powerful.

See the clock with your desired finish time and all your loved ones and spectators cheering you on.

For those experienced racers, this works too. Especially if you’ve completed a race where you broke your PR and felt amazing.

Relive that scenario over and over again and see the miles fly by effortlessly. 

Enjoy these mental games to play while running and find out how strong your body is when your mind is not sabotaging your efforts.

Here are some other things to consider to improve your overall running ability and help you go the distance.

Be Fearless

Training for long distance races can be monotonous and down right boring.

Try to mix things up to keep to yourself engaged. Be creative and take new and more interesting, and more varied, routes.

Take chances with your running routine. Start working out with runners who are faster than you and let your drive to keep up help you to improve.

You’ll find that as you start to keep up with, or even surpass, runners you looked up to, you’ll realize you have more potential than you thought.

Believe in yourself and in the things you can do. Change your mindset and your circumstances.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Anything worth doing takes time, and that’s the same for training.

You need to start small and build up your performance one step at a time.

Stay patient and positive, even if you feel like your improvements are taking too long or your goals seem too out of reach.

Lofty goals are terrific, and setting them can be inspiring, but you can only reach them one step at a time.

Trying to reach too far, too fast will only set you up for frustration.

Take your time. Big goals will take more than one training session to achieve. 

If you’re not where you want to be, keep working and be patient. You’ll get there sooner than you think.

Be Tenacious

Everybody has setbacks and will eventually experience a bad run or even worse, a bad race. Don’t let the disappointments stop you. 

Sometimes, even when you think you have everything exactly the way you need it in order to succeed, things will just fall through.

That’s life, and that goes for running too. Sometimes you fail even if you did everything right.

It’s natural and normal to be upset at a perceived failure, but it’s important not to lose hope or drive.

Keep your commitment to yourself and the things you want to achieve, and don’t lose heart.

Use bad experiences as motivation for better results next time. Disappointment doesn’t have to last forever.

Turn it into determination instead. Remember the old adage, “If you can dream it, you can be it”? 

It’s absolutely true. If you focus on the goal instead of the slips on the way, you’ll achieve more than you ever dreamed possible.

running no excuses

No Excuses

When things go wrong, and they sometimes will, don’t make excuses. 

Make sacrifices instead. Have to work full time but still need to train?


Your mental approach is going to make or break how you bounce back when things get tough.

When you get discouraged with where you are, take a look at where you started and see how far you’ve actually come.

Realize that there may be runners who are faster than you, but there are runners you can beat. It’s all relative.

The key to being a good runner is having mental and physical perseverance.

Hopefully, you can keep these things in mind to insure you stay positive and on track. 

Use these mental games to play while running so you can master the miles and  go the distance to reach your goals. 

Try to keep things in perspective and don't let setbacks be an excuse for quitting. 

Running is hard, but it also gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you tough it out. 

And when all else fails, just remember to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.