The Mental Trick That Makes Long Runs Easier

If you’re training for a marathon, triathlon, or other distance event, long training runs are an essential building block for physical achievement , especially. But racking up those miles is not always easy on the mind. Luckily, researchers have found a well-known technique called cognitive reappraisal that might help to increase your mental stamina and make long runs feel easier.

A recent study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion recruited 24 runners between the ages 18 and 33 who ran regularly and logged at least one run over nine miles a week. When using cognitive reappraisal before, every 30 minutes during the run, and after, subjects felt as if they had exerted themselves less, despite maintaining their average speed and heart rate.

So how does that work? “Cognitive reappraisal is actually a two-part mental exercise,” says Erin Olivo, PhD, MPH. “The reappraisal piece is when you take a look at what you’re thinking during a run and learn how to change those thoughts. The other part is called de-centering, where you take an observer stance to your thoughts and feelings.” Get ready to say sayonara to tedious long-training runs and give your training a mental edge with these expert tips.

Train Your Brain: How to Use Cognitive Reappraisal While Running

1. Be Aware Of What You’re Thinking
Ask yourself if your thoughts during a run are making things easier or harder for you,” says Olivo. If the answer is the latter, take a mental pause and figure out which negative traps you’re falling into. You might tend to compare yourself to other runners, feel like your speed doesn’t compare and dubb yourself “slow,” or just tune into and magnify any discomfort you’re feeling to a degree that it becomes detrimental (This rubbing of my foot against my shoe is definitely going to leave a blister!). Once you pinpoint the area, or areas, were you’re having negative thoughts, you have a solid starting point for change.

2. De-Center Yourself From Negative Thoughts
“When you are able to take a step back from a situation and become an observer of your thoughts as if they are objects, you’re able to create mental distance,” says Olivo. Look at things from the perspective of a news reporter. If your legs hurt during a run or you start feeling mentally fatigued, don’t ignore it. Instead, internally report on it and act as if you’re doing a newscast. Acknowledge they hurt, or that you’re bored, and provide context as to why. This separation will help make you feel like you have control over your thoughts and, more importantly, that you can make active choices to change them instead of just being reactionary. It might seem silly the first time you try it, but the more you de-center when you run, the easier it becomes.

3. Combine The Two Techniques
Now that you’re aware of your negative thoughts and know that you have to move past them, it’s time to put those learned behaviors into practice. “Observe your negative thoughts and then choose to change them,” says Olivo. That doesn’t mean cranking up your running playlist to drown out negative thoughts. Instead, actively change your focus. Using cognitive reappraisal, a thought like, “This run is awful, I feel so slow,” can turn into, “This run is hard, but if I keep going my endurance will improve, and I’ll get faster.”

4. Take In The Full Picture
It’s important to be mindful of the entire experience of running, not just the thoughts in your head. If you can be fully present, accounting for all of your senses—how your feet feel on the ground, the smells on your route, the brightness of the sun, the sounds of the traffic—you’ll have a completely different run than if you were stuck in your own head and fixated on your thoughts, says Olivo.

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