What You Should Think About When Running? The Fascinating Endurance Mindset!


When I’m on the road, my thoughts tend to roam almost as much as my feet do! During a single run, my focus shifts hundreds of times.  Sometimes I think about my form and current pace (ideal thoughts). Other times, I dwell on my anxiety over a work project or a disagreement I recently got into (not ideal).

When you are out on the road or trail or even competing in an endurance race such as triathlons for a significant period of time, it’s impossible to expect your mind to stay on a single topic. In fact, it’s better if you let it explore several different avenues of thought. Otherwise, the mental drain could overcome the physical gain and you might start to dread going out for your scheduled run. 

So what should you think about when running? Experienced runners and endurance athletes attempt to maintain good thoughts. They try to keep their thoughts either neutral or positive. Delving into negative thoughts and feelings could lead to major distractions from body signals or physical surroundings. The longer the run, the more the runner has to dig deeper and attempt to alter his or her feelings to perceive them as pleasurable, even the painful ones.

Try to focus on your form. No matter what else I’m thinking about, I always try to keep a background focus on my body positioning. Notice how you are holding your arms – are they relaxed with the elbows bent at a 90-degree angle? Is your head upright and looking down the road (or trail) ahead of you? Is your spine straight and not hunched over?

What Do Long-Distance Runners Think About?

The mind game is on a completely different turf when we move from short to long-distance running. One cannot just be simply fixated on getting to the finish line

Most long-distance runners report that they think about functional items such as running pace, breathing, heart rate, nutrition needs, and how their body feels. All of those are key components to completing a successful long-distance run. If any one of them gets ignored, the runner risks melting down and having to call someone to give them a ride home.

I still remember the time I went out too fast for a 20-mile marathon training run. I was still 6 miles from home when the “wheels fell off” and I couldn’t go any further. I had to borrow a phone from a stranger so I could call a friend to come to pick me up. If I had been paying attention to my breathing and heart rate, the whole situation could have been avoided. I would have known that I was running too hard on a hot day and would have slowed down in order to finish.

It’s likely my heartr ate that day had crept up into the red zone.

I should have been paying more attention to my body signals and less focused on other trivial thoughts.

Cognitive Reappraisal in Long Distance, Marathons & Ultra Running

But functional items are not the only thing that ultra runners think about. Deprived of sleep and willingly dragging themselves into the painful miles, trying to figure out how to deal with the heat or the cold, the blister, chafings, pallet fatigue, and the nagging pain of muscle soreness cannot just be dismissed by functional thoughts.

And so, what we found consistent but expressed differently by several ultra runners in the concept of cognitive Reappaisal which somehow sneaks its way to the mind of ultra runners.

What is cognitive Reappraisal? Cognitive reappraisal refers to the individual ability to interpret stress and hardships differently and even pleasurably.

This is in line with the Buddhist teaching of working towards embracing things for what they are, not what one would rather for them to be.

It seems like this is one of the most rewarding experience a human can go through but very hard to explain it to somone. It’s like trying to learn how to swim by reading a book.

For example, here you have Courtney Dewater *(The No.1 Female Ultrarunner) talking about the pain cave trying to explain how she takes pleasure out of it and how she deals with it

What’s Important to Do While Running?

Here are the most important things to do while running,

Nutrition

On average, one would consume around 100 calories for every mile of running. While the body stores enough glycogen ( your source of energy) for around 90 minutes of exercise, if you are running any longer, you need to give your body those 100 calories it needs.

Energy gels are widely used and very efficient at pumping your energy if consumed every 30 to 40 minutes. Check the one we recommend on our page : Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budget Gear (2022 Update)

Hydration

When running in warm climates, one should take Hydration seriously. The body tries to maintain its temperature by sweating, which makes the intake of fluids crucial. Not taking in enough fluids will reduce your heart’s efficiency, increasing the heart rate and elevating body temperature.

Alike, overhydration is equally or even more serious than dehydration. Overhydration could cause low blood sodium, a condition known as Hyponatraemia. It could cause bloating and nausea and in extreme cases, it can cause brain seizure and death.

So, it’s no Joke!

Always make sure you have the right hydration Balance

Body Form & Relax

Staying physically relaxed will help you conserve energy and make it through to the end of the run. Some runners tend to clench their fists and hold their arms high and tight against their bodies. When running this way, you will end up burning unnecessary energy. It’s better to keep your hands and arms loose so those extra muscles don’t take away any fuel that is needed for your legs. Your fingers should be lightly touching your palms. Elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle and your arms down near your hips. As you pump your arms forward, you don’t want your hands to go any higher than your rib cage.

Keep Moving

If you are having a particularly hard day, there are times when all you will want to do is stop. In fact, you might even be having trouble just getting out the door. The most important thing to do on these days is to keep the momentum going forward. Taking those first few steps out the door will lead to others. If you are mid-run and want to stop, try slowing down instead.

Unless you are injured, even walking is better than coming to a complete standstill. After slowing for a while, you might feel better enough to speed things up again. Even if you don’t go faster, you’ll eventually make it to the end of the workout and you’ll feel better than if you had given up.

Breath ; How Do You Breathe when Running?

For the majority of runs, you want your breathing to be nice and easy.

Breathe through your mouth, breathe through your nose, or even both at the same time. I once had a coach who, when asked that question, told us to try and breathe through our ears if we could! The important thing is to make sure you are breathing nice and steady in a controlled rhythm. I tend to breathe in for 3 steps and out for 3 steps, but that is the tempo that works for me.

You don’t want to be panting so hard that it’s hard to keep a conversation with another person. If your breathing is steady and controlled, that means your body is getting enough oxygen to keep your muscles happy. When you are struggling to speak, your body is switching into an oxygen-deprived or anaerobic state. Your body can only exist in that state for a limited amount of time. Those periods of intense running should be reserved for your speedwork days. (Source)

Why Do Runners Love Running?

Runners love running for a number of reasons, from how it makes us feel to the health benefits it provides.

For me, the real question is what’s not to love? Running builds lean strong muscles throughout the body, including your heart and lungs. It burns calories to help keep us from gaining weight. Running is as challenging as we want it to be. There are endless opportunities to try and run faster or further, or even while dressed as a ballerina or dribbling a basketball! (Source)

Another reason to love running is how simple and natural it is. Our bodies were built to run, and it doesn’t require a bunch of complicated equipment, complex instructions, or rules that have to be learned before you can play.

Is the Runner’s High Real?

Runner’s High is a real phenomenon that some people experience after a hard workout. This relaxed or blissful feeling is commonly attributed to a boost of endorphins that is released by the body. Some people experience the feeling more than others – and some never feel it at all.

I am in the latter group.

This is an interesting article by Johns Hopkins that explores the science behind the Runner’s High as well as other mental benefits of running.

I have felt a wide range of emotions and mental states after running, but I have never experienced a feeling that I would describe as a “high”.  For me, it is more of a general feeling of accomplishment and well-being that comes from knowing I have completed my goal for that day.

How Do You Keep Yourself Motivated to Run?

One of the best ways to keep motivated is to have a goal in mind. Look at a calendar of upcoming races. If there is one you would like to take on, then sign up! Just having that goal race in your near future is some great built-in motivation. If you tell your friends and family that you will be running the race, it will provide even more accountability.

I keep myself motivated to run by continually mixing things up and inventing new challenges.

You can also try to come up with a different goal for every run. If you always go out and run the same distance, at the same speed, over the same route, then you run the risk of getting burned out or bored. On the other hand, you can keep it interesting if you vary your distances and speeds while exploring new areas to run.

Not every run needs to be a completely new adventure, but you may want to consider changing one aspect of each run. Today’s run might be shorter and faster, while tomorrow’s maybe the same distance but at an easier pace.

Do you tend to always run the same route when you go outside? Try to find some different paths around your area to explore! You might even jump in the car and try a new area if your neighborhood is not very runner-friendly. There might be a park or an unused track nearby that would be a great place to run some laps. That occasional change of venue might be all that it takes to keep you interested and excited about your next run.

On a side note, we recommend going over our post : How Long Does It Take to Build Running Endurance? Must-Know Tips

How Do You Stay Calm & Motivated While Running?

Keeping yourself in a relaxed mental state is essential for keeping positive.

Stay calm by thinking happy thoughts. Try picturing yourself somewhere serene, like in the woods or watching the ocean waves roll in.

Or think back and focus on memories of times when you were particularly enjoying yourself. You can even try smiling for no reason at all – you’ll be surprised at how it makes you feel!

Do you have a mantra that you can repeat to yourself for motivation?

It can help you to keep your thoughts positive. Saying short statements like, “I am a runner”, “Nice and steady”, “Can’t stop – won’t stop”

Might seem silly to some. But these short affirmations are useful for boosting your mental state and pushing the negativity away.

Here is another one by Jim Cary

My soul is not contained within the limits of my body. My body is contained within the limitlessness of my soul.

Jim Carrey

So there you go – until next time, try to keep it positive, keep it interesting and definitely keep on running!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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