How To Stay Positive on a Long Run

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One of the biggest tests of grit and character for a runner is the long run. Running further than you do usually to improve your VO2 max and endurance can be challenging. It’s not all easygoing and sometimes it can be difficult for you to have the motivation to see a long run through to the end. In this article, we’ll discuss some tips to help you stay positive on your long runs.

What is a long run and why do it?

As it says on the tin, a ‘long run’ is where you cover a further distance than usual in your running workout.

Long runs can help you achieve an array of benefits like cardiovascular development, physiological improvements and enhancements to your mental attitude.

Long runs help the heart get stronger as it’s working harder for longer to deliver a blood flow to your muscles. Over time, this improves our ventilatory capacity to transfer oxygen in and out of our lungs, meaning the body gets more efficient at circulation.

Another benefit of long runs is that the body shifts from using limited glycogen reserves (typical in fast races) to using fat stores. Not only does this help with weight loss and figure toning, it also means you will have a glycogen store handy to sprint with at the end of the long run.

Finally, long runs have the mental benefit of callusing your mind and improving mental toughness. It takes a lot of grit, determination and effort to complete a long run. If you’re able to push through the hardships of a long run you’ll have more mental toughness to apply not only to running but to other areas of your personal and professional life.

How far should my long run be?

The exact distance you run for a long run is relative to what your normal training distance is.

A rule of thumb is to run one and a half to twice as long your ordinary distance. If your ordinary distance was 6 miles, you can expect your long run to be anywhere between 9 to 12 miles.

Another way of calculating a long run distance is to make your long run 20 to 30 per cent of your overall weekly mileage. If you ran 40 miles in one week then your long run could be between 10 and 12 miles.

Why can a long run be so tough on the mind?

By their nature, long runs are a challenge. Running further than you’re used to can be difficult for the body but, more importantly, challenging for the mind.

If you’re not mentally prepared for the trials and tribulations of the long run, it’s possible you might feel it’s ‘too hard’ and give up half-way through. Obviously, we don’t want that to happen and there are ways to overcome the mental demands of running further than usual.

Check out the tips below for pushing through the demands of a long run.

1. Have a mile of gratitude

‘Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.’ – Oprah Winfrey

The ‘gratitude mile’ is a ground-breaking concept I learnt about very recently. Never the less, it’s one which I have employed in each of my 3 last long-runs and I can personally vouch for it’s effectiveness. 

When you hit ‘the wall’ during your long run, spend the next mile focusing on the things you are grateful for. You may be grateful for anything.

Being alive, the beautiful view, the sun that’s shining, your family, having a good job, enjoying decent health and having a great life quality. Whatever you are grateful of in life, think about it in your gratitude mile once you ‘hit the wall’. Thinking about the positive things in life will be a welcome distraction whilst in the ‘wall’ zone of the long run. 

The gratitude mile is great during a long run because it stops you obsessing over pace, time and distance. Instead, it makes you focus on the simple and positive things in life, like being able to run at all. 

If you’ve ever seen the film ‘Happy Gilmore‘ with Adam Sandler, you can think of the gratitude mile like the ‘happy place’ Happy goes to when he needs to be positive before an important shot. Check out the clip below to see the ‘happy place’ in-action. 

Practising a gratitude mile when the going gets tough on a long run can kickstart a welcome mental shift to give you a boost of positive energy. This positivity will lift your spirits during the tough miles of the long run to ensure you see the workout through. 

Next time you’re in the midst of a painful long run, employ the gratitude mile. Make the next mile one where you don’t focus on pace, PR or your cadence rate. Instead, calmly think about all the things you are grateful for. Go to your ‘happy place.’ 

2. Remind Yourself of Your Reason Why

Your reason ‘why’ is possibly your most powerful weapon for staying positive during a long run.

Us humans do things for a reason. Whether it’s working hard for a promotion, studying to pass an exam or practising piano to become a good musician, we do things because we want a certain outcome. Running is no different.

Whether you’re a newbie runner, a seasoned veteran or an elite runner, you will have a reason why. There will be something behind your running that’s motivating you to continue.

When things get tough in the long-run, it’s a great time to remind yourself of this reason why.

Think about exactly what it is that’s compelling you to run. What is it that’s inspiring you to continue through the burning lungs and pounding legs of this difficult mile? Why bother continuing when you could be at home having a nice cup-of-tea, watching the TV?

If you’re clear on your reason why then it will be easy to answer these questions.

Maybe it’s to lose weight or tone your body. It could be to improve your mental or physical health. Perhaps it’s to see more of the world.

The more emotionally driven this reason why the more power it will inspire you to continue running. Think; if you want to lose weight maybe it’s because you want to live long enough to see your children grow up. If it’s to improve your mental health it might be because you want to be more confident and have improved self-esteem. If you can emotionally charge your reason why the more likely it will inspire you to continue running.

Whatever your reason why for running, and how emotionally charged it is, make sure you’re crystal clear on what it is.

Taking a moment during your long-run to remind yourself why you’re doing this can have a powerful mental effect and help you stay positive. It can be the difference between staying strong to see the long-run through to completion or throwing in the towel and quitting the long-run.

3. Have Powerful Audio

Personally, I find music, podcasts and audio books to be a powerful motivator during a long-run.

Having something to focus on, other than the gruelling mileage ahead of me, helps me to mentally drift elsewhere whilst I’m running.

If i’m listening to some upbeat music I might be focusing on the different instruments and the meaning behind the lyrics.

When it’s a podcast I focus on learning something new, thinking about the situations I will be able to apply the knowledge learnt to my everyday life.

If it’s a fictional audio book I get lost in the story and think about the struggles the characters are going through. I love classic literature and have listened to books like ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey‘, ‘Jane Eyre‘ and ‘David Copperfield‘ whilst on long runs. They’ve helped keep me sane, to say the least…

Focusing on the audio content can be a welcome relief from the difficulties of a long-run which will help you stay positive. Give it a try.

For more information on audio and running check out the following blog posts: 

4. Use David Goggin’s ‘Cookie Jar’ Method

When reading David Goggin’s hit book ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ I learnt about his revolutionary ‘cookie jar’ method.

Simply put, the cookie jar is a place in the mind where you put all the good and bad things that shaped you. It should be filled with your greatest achievements and biggest failures in life.

These should be the things that have so far defined you. When you’re struggling in the long-run, go into your mental cookie jar and remind yourself of what you’ve been through. Think of the hardships and the successes you’ve had.

These items in the cookie jar can be used as mental fuel for when the moment of difficulty comes during the long-run. By thinking of how savage you’be been in the past, and the experiences you’ve gone through, you’ll feel empowered to push through the current long-run pain.

A personal example of a success is running a sub 1:25 half marathon whereas a personal failure would be injuring myself during my first half-marathon where I did virtually 0 training like the moron I was back then. I know; I was an idiot. These two moments are examples of running experiences that have shaped me and helped me to become the runner I am today.

To ensure you are well acquainted with the items within your mental cookie jar, take a few minutes to write them all out long-hand.

Grab a pen and paper, split the page into two columns labelled ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ and write down all of your major successes and failures in life. Under each, write a sentence or two describing it, how it made you feel and what you learnt from the experience.

This exercise will help you understand the contents of your cookie jar as doing this will force you to process each success and failure mentally.

To stay positive during a long run, use David Goggin’s ‘cookie jar’ method. Use the cookies in the jar to remind yourself of how awesome you are and what you’ve been through. Doing this will give you inspiration to push through the current long run pain so you can finish strong.

For more information on David Goggins and running check out the following blog post:

5. Use Positive Self Talk

‘No level of obstacle can prevail in crippling a mind that’s continuously fed with positive self-talk.’ – Edmond Mbiaka

When things get hard during the later stages of a long run, positive self talk is one of your biggest allies.

We all have an internal dialogue with ourselves. You can use the voice in your head to your advantage when you’re exhausted in a longer run.

What exactly is ‘positive self talk’? Positive self talk is the optimistic voice in your head that says ‘you can do it. You’re doing so well. Just a little further. Come on!’ It makes you feel good about yourself and helps you to believe you can complete the long run strong.

Staying positive in the face of adversity is your secret weapon on a punishing long run. When you’re starting to become tired, start with the positive self talk. It can be the difference between finishing the workout or throwing in the towel.

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