It’s So Mental

On Saturday morning, I ran eight miles.

Going into the run, I wasn’t sure how it would go. My friend Merri is training for the Hamptons Marathon at the end of September and, after running 18 miles last Saturday, her training plan called for an eight mile run over the weekend. She asked me to join her and since Merri is one of my favorite running buddies and I don’t have the opportunity to run with her often, I agreed.

Merri was only in town for three days from New York City and I wanted to spend all the time with her that I could. Our running pace is very similar and Sadie is basically obsessed with her, so on Saturday morning, Sadie and I met up with Merri at 7 a.m. for a long run. Long for me… not so much for Merri.

Running with Dog

On Friday night, I went to bed thinking the run the following morning would be kind of miserable. And then something odd happened.

I woke up on Saturday morning and felt totally committed. I felt the way I do when I wake up to conquer a long run when I am training for a half marathon: It’s non-negotiable and I’m going to get through it. I was actually excited. (Long runs are actually my favorite part of half marathon training.)

Merri told me she wasn’t worried about our pace since she just wanted to get in the miles. She matched my pace and let me run at a pace that made me feel comfortable. Merri mapped out an out-and-back course and told me to just think of it as two four-mile runs. Mentally, this made things so much easier for me. Two four-mile runs? I can do that! 

We took off and ran around Sarasota. Running new routes when I am traveling is always fun for me because there’s so much to look at and take in. During our run we saw a manatee! We talked the entire time which made the miles pass by so much faster than they do when I run on my own.


Once we reached the turn-around point, I felt great. I knew I’d finish and that I’d finish strong. Merri said that after each mile we reached during the second half of our run, she wanted to take a 10 second walking break to sip on water and mirror the water breaks that occur during a race. I always thought I preferred to run straight through, but these fast mini-breaks helped keep me going because I just focused on the mile we were running, not the miles we had left. I just had to make it through one mile at a time to make it to a super-short walking break.

Despite the heat and humidity and the fact that Merri and I looked like we had jumped in a pool at the end of our run, it was one of the best runs I’ve had all year.


It’s also the farthest I’ve run since the ZOOMA half marathon in January. It’s three miles over my “magic mile number” and I finished with a feeling of accomplishment that I seem to only get from running.

After our run, I thought about just how mental running is for me.

  • Part of me knew I could run all eight miles, but I had a mental block up that made me doubt myself. It wasn’t until I mentally committed to the run on Saturday morning that I knew I could do it.
  • Running an out and back course and telling myself it was just two four-mile runs helped me wrap my head around the eight-mile distance.
  • Allowing myself to take 10-second walking breaks after miles five, six and seven helped me work through the final few miles and focus on individual miles rather than the chunk of miles I had remaining.

So many little mental mind games went into this run and helped me finish feeling strong and proud. Now I’m on the lookout for a fall half marathon!

Question of the Afternoon

  • Do you play any mind games with yourself during workouts that help you make it through harder workouts?


  1. says

    I totally play mind games with myself when I’m running and more often than not psych myself out before hand thinking I can’t do it! I’ve had problems with my Achilles which doesn’t help matters and then last Monday injured the ligaments in my other one so I’m out now for a bit. Monday is usually my longer run day (about 8 – 10 miles is hella long for me!) and instead of psyching myself out about a run I did the same for the elliptical workout I had planned….it’s obviously not exclusive to running! 🙂


  2. says

    I agree about the mental thing- before my first half the furthest I’d run was 10 miles but once I got the first 3 out of the way I was like yeah, I can do this because I knew I had done that before. Also, love running in new places, it’s so much more fun and keeps everything mixed up.


  3. says

    Oh running is SO mental for me. I had a really hard time getting through two miles when I first started running. It was like after two miles, my mind said no more. Once I got to the point where I could do the 5K distance without stopping, everything changed for me. Glad your run went well!


  4. says

    I abolutely play mind games – I think it is key to getting through the runs most of the time! Especially for my long runs, which are typically 10-13 miles each Saturday, I break it up mentally by grouping the miles smaller. Most of the time, I focus on the first 3, bang those out, then get through the middle 3, and then by the “last” 4, I usually tell myself its a matter of minutes. Once I reach 10, I go mile by mile and feel pretty good by then mentally.


  5. says

    Oh my goodness, mind games ALL THE TIME! 8 miles is such a mental block for me, so I like that you thought of it as “2, 4 mile runs”…much easier to swallow! I play the typical mile marker games, make it to that tree, then make it to there, then sprint to the end, then you can have water, etc!


  6. says

    I totally agree! I was a distance swimmer from middle school through college and played too many mind games with myself. Some of my worst swims were the ones where the whole entire time I told myself I was doing terrible and I was too tired or too slow. Some of my best races were the ones I was able to just shut my mind off and sing up rap songs on repeat. It’s all in how we prepare our minds for a race.


  7. Amy says

    When I do Jillian Michaels videos, and I am pissed at her for being so hard, haha, I tell myself I only have 10 seconds left – even if I have longer, I break them down. Or I will not face the video screen while doing the hard ones, so I am not staring the TV down waiting for the next exercise. Works for me!


  8. says

    I ran 14 miles (the longest distance for me yet) and I had to keep talking to myself to put things into perspective. I hit mile 9, drank some water, had some jelly beans and then told myself: 5 more miles. I think breaking long runs into “chunks” is the only way to deal with it. 26.2 miles is just about four 6 mile runs. Easy! Maybe… that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself :S


  9. says

    Ohh I love that idea of 10 second breaks for water. I just always powered through! Great idea. Agreed, it’s definitely all mental. If you start to have self doubt, it’s so hard to trek through. I always think of those Under Armour commercials where all the ladies are kicking some serious ass for motivation!

    Started following your blog not too long ago, loving it!


  10. says

    Mental blocks kill my run faster than physical blocks do. I always give myself mini goals “run to the end of the block” or “run to that street lamp” when I’m struggling. I also tell myself that I haven’t died yet and that I won’t die today!


  11. says

    Nice way to get some miles in with a friend, win win if you ask me!

    Running is extremely mental. I have so many mental tricks and things I have learned just to help keep me going and push me through when I want to stop. Someone once told me back when I was training for my first marathon that running is 90% mental and 10 % physical…. Most days I actually agree with that statement. Yes physical aspect is super important but I think a strong willed person is better than any naturally gifted physical athlete any day.


  12. Katherine says

    I am currently training for my first half in october. I had to run 8 over the weekend and if was all mental. Before each long run I pysch myself out but once I hit the pavement I feel great. I break it up by landmarks. Its great when you get to 6 miles because its only two more which is that long. I think my magic number is 5 too. Its a great distance. Having to run three today will feel like a breeze that I can add weight tranining in.


  13. says

    Haha it’s kinda embarrasing but I do. If I’m doing a really tough workout for say, 45 minutes, 15 minutes in I’ll give myself a little speech about how I’m 1/3 of the way through and how awesome that is LOL just little pep talks to keep my motivation up.


  14. says

    Running is SO mental! I hate and love it at the same time. Lots of times, I’ll make up choreography in my head that matches the music I’m listening to. If i’m in a musical or a play, I’ll run through lines in my head or practice choreography as the miles tick by. My last non-easy long run (meaning I was actively focusing on my pace), I tried to get a little bit faster every mile, which helped me with the one-mile-at-a-time mindset. Great tips!


  15. says

    I’m training for a couple half marathons and I’m using the NYRR training program that is packed with mental tricks. I’m loving it!

    Yesterday was 13 miles and they had me break it into 4 loops of 3.33 miles each. I was supposed to run it in negative splits, but I managed even splits instead. But it made it so much easier to tackle in segments. I ran the training run 10 minutes faster than my previous half marathon, and I was doing it at what felt like a moderate pace (vs a race effort).

    Mental training works!


  16. says

    I was just talking to a friend about how mental running is. If I’m in a bad mood, my running sucks. This morning was my first run on the cross country team. It helped SO much to run with someone else. Another girl and I just ran together the entire distance (about 4 miles) and talked a majority of the time. The miles just flew past. It really helps me to to have that accountability partner running along side of you. You have no choice but to keep going.


  17. says

    A lot of times I am able to trick myself into running more because I just underestimate how much I run. I’ll say “Okay, I’ll run until that lamp post” but when I get there, I know I can keep chugging along and can put off walking for a bit. Or I’ll say, “Okay, I can’t WALK during a Britney Spears song, I’ll take a break when it’s over” but an EQUALLY BUMPIN’ SONG will come on and I mean, I can’t walk when the song demands higher energy activity!


  18. says

    I completely agree that it is mental. I have to have it in my head that I will finish and then I have no problem completing the run! I love that you went running in a new area, and have your best friend. Honestly, those two things would make me conquer any amount (well, let’s not get carried away! haha)


  19. says

    all of those tips are great ideas for tackling a long run! and it’s so true…running is so mental!!! When I was training for a race this spring, I picked a route that I loved. It was a 5 mile loop and I could gauge how far I had gone by various landmarks — depending on how long my run was, I always knew how far I had to go and, for me, I prefer running in areas where I know what’s coming rather than exploring unknown areas. One of those little differences in mentality 🙂


  20. Lora says

    I recently signed up for my first half marathon and have been using your trainging schedule as a guide. Its been great! I have always been a distance runner, but I never got around to doing one, so I am super excited to finally have one under my belt! Do you have any suggestions about what to eat the night before/morning of?


  21. says

    I always play mental games. I mentally prep myself for a run no matter how many miles before I head out the door. I know I am running X amount of miles, no excuses. Sticking to a training schedule and running with a local running group has really helped me stay accountable.


  22. says

    Congrats Julie!! That’s awesome that you pushed yourself, even without really knowing it or trying to! I also love how miles pass faster with a friend. I have a whole bunch of mind games I like to play with myself and am going to turn them into a blog post soon, but one of my faves is coming up with a movie title for every letter of the alphabet. I don’t watch a ton of movies, so sometimes this can take a while!


  23. says

    Awesome job! Running is totally mental. When I’m doing a longer run, I always split it into halves and use the smaller number (so, if it were 14 miles, then I’d say “I’ve run 3, 4, 5, etc. miles” until halfway, then “I only have 5, 4, 3, etc miles to go”). I also think about what I’ll feel like after, and what I’ll do to celebrate (take a nap, fun snack, etc.).


  24. says

    I totally understand this. When I was training for my first half marathon, I had a huge mental block about running 10 miles. I had never run that much before, and the number just seemed so INTIMIDATING. Once I completed that run, I had no problem with the 11, 12, or 13.1. It’s funny how our minds work!


  25. says

    It’s always great to break things down into smaller increments. I do this with every whether it’s writing a paper, swimming laps, or running! I think it’s just easier for your mind to take in! I always trick myself by saying “one more mile” and then 6 miles later, well, I ran 6 miles!


  26. says

    My friends were just vacationing in Sarasota, and one of the guys told me that while they were swimming one day a manatee popped right out of the water next to them! He said he was so startled that he actually shouted a little and the manatee went back under.


  27. says

    I think running is always a mind game, especially with long distances! For me, simply setting my mind on that number is the first step in getting it done. If 10 miles is imprinted in my head, I won’t stop until I hit it! Also, I love exploring new towns on vacation through running! My favorites recently were in the Cape and Boston/Cambridge.


  28. says

    I was just in Sarasota a week and a half ago! It’s SO beautiful! I think running long distances is deff. a mental thing too. I always shoot for a small number and then increase it as I go and think of it as challenging myself!


  29. says

    I do the same thing! I split up my run into two smaller ones…mentally it helps so much! Congrats on the 8! 5 miles is my magic number too and I know how hard it is to push past it.


  30. Katie says

    This post is timed perfectly! I am running the Baltimore Marathon this October. Ive only ever ran 5ks so I am super nervous. I had signed up with my boyfriend and we were training together, but friday night he broke up with me so its training on my own! I am certainly fueled now buy alot of hurt and anger but hey Im glad I have this goal ahead of me. Sunday I ran 14 miles at my best pace ever!

    I am really curious what anyone things about the run/walk method. When training with him he liked to run for 5 minutes walk for 2 minutes. I never complained about it, but it sometimes felt like I was walking when I didn’t need too, and I was stopping just as I was getting in the groove. On Sunday I ran the first 7 miles out and then on the way back I took short walk breaks as I felt like I needed them. Is there any tip or “rule” when it comes to incorporating walking into the marathon?


  31. says

    It’s so funny that you posted this today. My boyfriend and I had a conversation this morning about how running is so mental. How my run goes almost always has to do with my mental state. I play lots of games to encourage myself during a run. If people are running towards me I pick a spot halfway between us and try to get there before them. I try to also think of long runs as two shorter runs like you mentioned.


  32. says

    During harder or longer runs I play a ton of mind games. I break my runs into sections and just try to get from one to the other. Or break down mile by mile. running is a very mental game and sometimes you have to do what works!


  33. Amy @ Run with Perseverance says

    You’re so right, the mentality is more than half of getting through a run! I screwed myself up for my long run this weekend when I didn’t believe I could do it. I need to work on that for my half marathon on Sunday!


  34. says

    Congrats on such a great run! I love the idea of breaking up the run in your mind as two four-mile runs.
    I’m not a fan of running, but for really intense workouts that have a set number of rounds/reps, I think of the amount of reps I need to finish a certain exercise; I don’t think of the how many I need to finish the entire workout. For instance, I actually like doing different burpee workouts (I know, I know, I’m crazy–I prefer them over running!). When I do something like a 100 burpee workout, I think of taking the burpees 10-15 at a time, because I know I can do at least that many!


  35. AM says

    If my endurance is flagging, I usually pick a landmark (a stop sign, utility poll, distinctive car parked on the street, whatever) and just focus on getting there, then when I’m past that I pick a new fake “finish line.” It’s even better when there are other runners/walkers, because then my competitive spirit takes over and I get so focused on passing them that I forget my fatigue…


  36. says

    I totally agree — I’ve been going through something similar. At the beginning of the summer I wasn’t sure if I could run a 5k … I’m not training for anything specific, but now my personal record is 6.7 miles without stopping. It’s all mental!


  37. says

    I really need to try more mind games. Right now I just remind myself how awesome I will feel after completing the race and I chant I rock I’m awesome. 🙂
    Music is also really helpful for me.


  38. says

    Isn’t that the best when you surprise yourself with a WAY better run than you expected? I’m due for another one of those soon.

    I definitely play the mind games, especially with running since for me it is just the worst. Breaking it up into smaller increments in my mind always helps. I’m always afraid to take mini walk breaks because I feel like a) I won’t want to run again, and b) the mileage “doesn’t count” because I didn’t run it straight. It’s so encouraging to hear serious runners take quickie walk breaks, I may have to try it!


  39. says

    I was JUST thinking how mental running is this past weekend too! I ran my long run last Saturday to train my mind mentally more than train my legs for my upcoming race. It’s so mental, its crazy.


  40. says

    I like to try to “trick” myself into how far I’m running. I tell myself I’ll just go one more mile and once I’ve reached it I keep running. It gives me a stopping point if I REALLY need it but if I’m doing ok I just let myself keep running. It helps me get through the miles when I’m struggling. Thinking about the run in chunks is definitely easier than looking at it as a whole and doubting yourself. Great job on the eight miles! The most I’ve ever ran at once is a 10K a long time ago. I’m hoping to do a half marathon sometime in the coming year!


  41. says

    Running can be so mental for me too. I try not to think too far ahead or count the miles and just enjoy my surroundings, the music, and the glorious fact that I can put one foot in front of the other. Eventually you hit that blissful stride.


  42. says

    The only mindgame I’ve learned to play with myself is to just focus on the mile I’m in. I wish I had some other magical game, but I don’t…yet! I kinda like running the 8 mile markers. I have a half next month though and need to get some long runs in!


  43. Alli says

    I am training for my first marathon in October and have a similar mindset that Merri seems to have. I usually tackle my long runs (and even my shorter ones) by running essentially two runs of equal distance in an out and back manner. This helps to split the run in half, and doesn’t give me the overwhelming feeling of having such a large amount of miles to accomplish. I now also look forward to my long run Saturdays like you do! 🙂


  44. Sheri says

    I ride in the MS150 Houston to Austin bike ride annually. Believe it or not, we have a few hills in Texas. After the first 35 miles of the route, the miles in between rest stops are shorter. Instead of 14 to 20 miles in between, there are 7-10 miles due to difficulty, weather, traffice, etc. On Saturday when the ride begins I do much better thinking “I have 14 miles to the first rest stop”, as opposed to “I have 88 miles until the half-way point”! It makes a HUGE difference. I drove the course this weekend and commented how crazy it was that I actually pedalled my little self all this distance!


  45. Erin says

    I can totally relate to this post! Running is SO mental for me. I’m running my first half next weekend (but have done a few 12-13mile long runs in my training) and I have been playing mind games with myself the whole time. Most of the time I feel like I’m counting down in terms of how many miles/how much time I have left, but that can be really daunting on long runs and sometimes makes me enjoy the run less. I’ve started grouping my miles together, like you said (i.e. thinking of three 4mile runs is much easier to handle than one 12miler). Having a running buddy is key, too, I think…and something I’ve really missed in my recent training! Congrats on your first long run in awhile, that must’ve felt good!


  46. De says

    I had this happen yesterday. During my crossfit WOD which involved running and a current heat index of 105 in MN (this is so not normal for us) I was mentally prepared to be dropping at some point. But I got halfway through and knew I could finish. My mindset when I get to that point and am struggling is “it may not be pretty, fast or heavy, but it’s getting it done and that is all I need right now.”


  47. says

    I feel the same way! When I was training for my recent half marathon, I found that I could run just as much as I set out to run – one day I would be fine with 15km, and the next 30mins was my breaking point! You can literally do anything you set your mind to 😉


  48. says

    I am totally the same way. Once I get it in my head that I can run a distance, I am fine but until I reach that point I have serious self doubt. I love the feeling when you have a great run that you thought might be a disaster. It’s the best! Way to push past that mental block Julie!


  49. says

    Great job! Running is totally mental for me too and I always use the out-and-back half distance trick… I tell myself that I just have to run 4 miles out, then “go home.” Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment after a great run!


  50. heathyr says

    I consistently run about 28-30 miles a week. Even though I consider myself a “runner,” each of my runs requires mind games- regardless of the distance. You’d think after a while it’d get easier, but running has a way… it never seems to be easy!

    My mind game I play is knowing I need to hit at least the 28 mile mark every week. I like to try to start out my week with one long and a second semi-long run. My mind starts playing games with me at the 3 mile mark and usually I want to quit… but I never do because I know that if I quit today then it just means I’ll have to prepare myself mentally AGAIN later into the week for these long runs. If I just get them over with at the beginning it should be smooth sailing for the remainder, right? This is what I tell myself, and this is what works. But each week I play the games… 🙂

    BTW – “5” is my magic mile number too 🙂


  51. says

    Sounds like a great run!!! When I have a challenging run or think it will be challenging, I tell myself no pressure on pace. Just enjoy being out in nature. When I take the pace constraint off of myself, I generally end up happier and actually going faster!


  52. Kathryn says

    I had an unexpected 6 mile run this morning. It was just what I needed to give me a push for a fall 1/2 marathon. Run the Outback 1/2 in Jax on Thanksgiving day!



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