Ultra-runners know that running these long-distance races are both physical and mental challenges. To stay mentally motivated and to train our brain so we can keep going and avoid having to DNF is an important part of our training. We tend to think that what will first give up on a long-distance run are our legs or lungs. But if we don’t have any injuries or health issues, if we have trained properly for a race, most often during the race, our brain is the first to go. When our body starts to feel tired, our brain sends signals that we should stop. But our muscles have a lot more energy and strength than we can feel. Keeping our brain engaged could be the key to maintaining our pace and make it to the finish line with a smile on our face. Training our brain during training sessions is as important as training our body physically.Tips to Stay Mentally Strong During a Long-Distance Race
- Visualize your Training and Races– Visualizing the finish line is great, but thinking about your past training sessions and other races where you felt comfortable and strong will be helpful. If you think about your nice training runs you’ve done, you can use it to stay motivated. You can also think of running friends you trained with, physio therapists who helped you look after your body, family who has been supporting you. Think of all the people that have been helping you to make it to this race, that will get you fired up to represent all their efforts they did to support you.
- Break Down the Distance– Thinking of the high-level distance, how many kilometers are ahead can be too challenging mentally. The best option is to focus on the next checkpoint, we just have to motivate ourselves to get to the next checkpoint feeling strong. If we have support along the way, that could be even more motivating to focus and look forward to seeing a friendly supporter. We have to remind ourselves to keep going and keep moving.
- Pick Up the Pace– When you start going through a stage where you feel a bit bored, depending on the course or running on your own, you need to check in with your body. At some point, once we start to feel mentally fatigued, our body tends to settle into a slower pace that could be too comfortable. Our brain is starting to slow us down, we need to ignore what our brain is telling us. If we pick up the pace slightly, it forces our mind and body to push out of the boredom and mental fatigue, and it becomes more active. Even to pick up the pace and push a bit more for 30 seconds will help reactivate our brain, and get back into a more energetic pace.
- Include Mindfulness Strategies– During long-distance runs, it is good to practice some mindful running, connecting your breath and body, or adding different strategies to incorporate mindfulness into the race. Try to enjoy the nice race atmosphere and environment. Enjoy seeing nice runners during the race, appreciate the nice course and supporters and volunteers along the way. Enjoying all this will prevent getting bored.
- Focus on Other Runners– Running an ultra-marathon is a solo challenge, only you can get yourself to cross the finish line. But encouraging other runners can be mutually beneficial. When we try, and help out another runner, we also help out ourselves. After helping and encouraging someone else, we can get our second wind and kick up our motivation.
- Find a Distraction– Finding a distraction from your discomfort zone, you will quickly realize that it was largely in your head. You can play “games” along the way to help you get out of the discomfort zone and switch your brain to a happier zone with some energy boost. Start signing, on the road count street lights, imagine someone you like is waiting for you ahead, try to catch up with some runners in front of you, find a distraction that will combat the monotonous rhythm and activate your brain.
- Build Up a Support Group– It’s great to focus on the finish line, but that’s a long way to go. If you ask some friends or family to support you along the way, you can look forward to seeing them at different stages, which will keep you motivated and happy. Coming across friendly faces in the race can keep you going feeling super motivated. Also, enjoy all the friendly volunteers along the way, this can make our brain much happier and make sure you smile:)
- Repeat your Mantra– In some stages of the race, the run will be tough. Choosing a nice mantra before the race can help us get through those tough stages of weakness. Repeating effective mantras keeps our mind from getting bored. Use words and phrases that are strong and motivating “You can do it”, “You are strong”, “You will get there, stay strong” “I breathe in strength, I breath out weakness”. Find short and highly personal mantras that will make your brain happy.
- Remind Yourself Why you are There– The night before a race, write down why you signed up for the race; the reason, people, goals. When the going gets tough during the race these words will remind you that you can do it feeling good.
- Keep Smiling– Smiling while running activates our brain and increases positivity instantly. Smile when you see a runner, volunteer, or think of something that makes you happy and smile. Or just smile to turn your brain HAPPY:)
Keep Smiling, Stay Happy, Keep Running!