How I Stay Motivated During Long Runs – 11 Tricks That Keep Me Going
Being motivated when planning to go out running long is quite different to being motivated just before the run. And very different to staying motivated while running.
Professionals don’t need such motivation. Running is their life, they are paid to run. They are motivated to win.
We, amateur runners, don’t have to run if we don’t feel like it. If going gets tough, we can stop and go home. But that’s not the point. We also want to finish the run.
During short, easy runs we can listen to a few songs, run past a few lovely sites and often the run will be over long before our music playlist. Sometimes we will barely break sweat and the workout will be over.
Longer runs are different.
Long run can be more of a mental than a physical battle, especially if we only do it for recreational purposes. Your muscles are developed and trained and can carry you over certain distances but it can all turn very different if your brain starts to disagree.
Learning how to combat, control and motivate the brain during the last stage of a marathon can be a real decider. Or even a 10km run, if that is long for you. Do you succumb and simply stop in frustration or is there a way to win over negative thoughts, continue to stay motivated and finish strong?
So, how best to motivate yourself and stay mentally motivated during long runs?
Well, there are some tricks and helpful tips that I use.
The first trick I use to motivate myself before and during a long run: ‘I am unique’
Brain likes compliments. Even before I set off for a long run, either in casual care-free training or a weekend race, I convince myself of a very important thing. How many people do I know can run that long? How many people are there who cannot run at all?
Even just the fact that you are able to run for an hour, let alone hours, is an achievement that commands the praise. You are unique, and you are ready to do it.
Be kind and positive to yourself from the start. The motivation starts right there.
My second trick, or shall we say rule, to stay motivated during long runs: Audio entertainment better be good
My favourite song can take me through the tough mile so I don’t even notice how tough it was. When I am preparing myself for a really long run, I will try and come up with the new playlist, something that will surprise and carry me along that long route.
Or if music isn’t your thing maybe you can find an audio book or a podcast?
Remember, we need to trick the brain by keeping it amused.
Very often you can get distracted and cover a fair road or trail distances while being immersed in your favourite audio entertainment. You are doing this for fun and health, you may as well relax and enjoy the ride.
Make sure the battery on your player is charged fully before you start!
Prepare the running gear ahead of time
In the morning you may be thinking about many things, and one of them would be, ok, I’ve got some serious distance to run in a few hours. You may get too excited and confused and may misplace and forget some important things regarding your gear, food, drinks, times, anything.
I don’t leave that ‘anything’ for the morning. I am ready in the morning.
Be organised, prepare all you need an evening before. Place everything neatly on your bed and check it all. No hurry, no rush. Make a list and check it all against it. Tick the boxes.
The idea is that in the morning you are ready. There is nothing else to check. Nothing except the run to think about. Your mind will be much clearer. You are motivated to run, no need for distractions that you can control.
You will be ready to go!
One step at the time
If your target for this morning is, say, 50km as it was for me one day, don’t do what I did. I started the run thinking, ‘oh man, I’ve got to run for 50km now’. When I passed 21km, half marathon distance, I remembered that I had 29 more kilometres to run!
Not very motivational, is it? That’s the worst way to think during your long run.
Since then I learned a little trick.
I cut my route into short mental segments. I now run between them without thinking of the far end. Think one little step at the time, remain in your comfortable running groove, relax and keep going.
When going on a long run, I plan the routes ahead of time
I rehearsed my marathon and 50km distances by running various short routes, changing them as I went. In the end I joined some of the training routes together, mixed them up and as a result I knew the final route inside out. I could mentally rehearse the whole run, I knew how long each segment would be, I ran them in different weather conditions, I knew what to expect.
This is not to say that you won’t get tired, you will, but mentally you will know what to expect – and when. You need mental clarity to stay motivated during a long distance run and this will help you think forward without any confusion about what the route will look like.
Remember that halfway point
Thinking about the end during the first couple of miles, especially in poor weather and before we fully warm up, can be demotivating. However, I make a mental note on passing the halfway point.
My brain loves that.
Every step after that will take me closer to the finish. I will enjoy that brief positive moment and keep moving. I’ll probably feel an instinctive burst in your tempo. I’m doing good, my motivation to finish the long run ahead is intact.
Mantra, mantra, mantra
During the recent half marathon I felt mental fatigue in the last third. I was running faster than usual and that probably caused it.
What I did, I calmly thought of what’s happening. Legs were fine, thighs were not burning. Heart rate was stable and not high, according to the watch monitor. I was breathing fine. Hence I WAS fine.
Then, in my mind, I simply started to repeat, ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got this’! A few times I even spoke those words and before long I was back in my thoughts running towards the finish.
Mantra can hypnotise the brain and once all is back in working order, the running machine simply goes on.
I don’t always train on the same routes
If the route is the same throughout your long runs, you are likely to get overly familiar and lose many points of interest that will entertain your brain.
My final marathon route was not the same as all of the training runs. There were many routes that I simply put together in order to create the long 42km or 50km.
If I had to spend 18 weeks training and running the same route, and then finally run the marathon back and forth along that very same route, the mental challenge would become a serious problem.
Avoid that. Find as many routes as possible. Even if you have to drive or travel to different locations. You will be grateful later.
Seek the motivational support from your friends, including your online running community
Talk to your friends about your long run. Tell your online followers as well. They will drum up the virtual support and some may decide to run at the same time with you.
As I said, the brain loves being entertained and to have people sending you messages of support, you will create very encouraging vibes leading to your long run.
I had online friends and followers who asked about my run’s schedule and promised to think of me, or even run some segments simultaneously. I remembered it all as I was running and it felt really fun and positive (a big THANK YOU guys!).
When you start getting tired, or having doubts, you will need every bit of energy and this little gesture can work wonders.
It gets better and it will be worth it in the end
Runs can have their ups and downs.
I may be tired and the steep hill is right ahead. Well, that means that from top of the hill onwards there will either be flat or downhill, in other words – it will get better.
I will cross that hill.
As I carry along and start getting really tired and my brain begins to entertain me with messages such as ‘stop and go home’, I start thinking of how far I’ve come, how well I’ve done and how little there is left to cover.
I can do it.
I start thinking how it will be well worth it in the end. Get positive, stay positive and power through.
Sometimes it all can get a bit too much and I may need a walking break, which is perfectly fine with me. For as long as I keep moving ahead and continue to run I’m doing the best job.
Think of a reward
Your long run will always be harder towards the end. You will be more tired and the legs may become achy. You may have used up all your drink and by now you are thirsty. You will at that stage be definitively very sweaty and may feel uncomfortable, especially if that is your first long run.
Well, think of what you’ll do and how you’ll treat yourself not long after that moment. There will be something that you’ll be looking forward to.
Either food or drink, or new shirt purchase (yep, that’s me), or letting everyone know of your achievement by sharing it on social media? Or maybe a mix of a few treats?
Power your last miles with positive thoughts about rewards and your motivation will receive the final boost.
Without motivation as a reason to attempt and complete long runs, we wouldn’t be able to complete them. I enjoy long runs because I enjoy the sense of fulfilment and achievement that I feel at the end. The knowledge that I am able to keep moving for three, four, six or more hours and cover some pretty long distances is driven by my motivation. Some of those journeys are not easy but they can be achieved by strong motivation that helps us during challenging times.
Keep it up, keep positive, enjoy help and support of positive people and your motivation will carry you through.
I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.
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