When I first started podcasting, I hosted a podcast called ‘Everyday Running Legends’. And at the end of every episode I would ask my guest ‘What is your number one tip to help a runner who is struggling through the last 10% of an endurance run?’. This one question has provided a lot of great insight that I would love to share. Any running distance is a mental game. Look at what happened once Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile and the psychological barriers of possibility were lifted. However, for this blog we will mainly focus on longer distance strategies. So here are 4 areas to focus on if you need to boost your mental game during an endurance race.
This is by far the most common tip from my podcast guests and with reason. It’s hard to think about when your legs are burning and the body is screaming to stop, but constantly remind yourself why you run. For example, are you setting an example for your loved ones? Raising awareness for a charity? Proving to yourself what you are capable of? Secondly, if you cannot think of a strong enough reason, then find one! If you cannot find one, then practice the art of gratitude.
If anyone has read Alex Hutinson’s book Endure they go into detail about the physical and psychological effects of smiling. It changes your chemistry and will make your suffering more tolerable. If you feel weird running with a smile then high-five spectators, engage with the crowd and encourage other runners on the course. You will be naturally smiling and reaping the benefits.
This has the double benefit of being fun and keeping the mind occupied. Within the last few kilometres start hunting down runners in front of you and start gobbling them up (like pac-man). Count the people you pass and start counting. Get to 5, then 10, even 20! Before you know it you’ll be at the finish line feeling strong.
This is where you need to hold yourself accountable and where running programs can be very helpful. During those lonely long runs, know what distance you need to run and don’t talk yourself out of cutting it a few kilometres short. Throughout your training if you commit to every kilometre and finish strong after every run it will continue building on your resilience. When it comes to race day you will know that you are a formidable running machine!