More Than Running – My Mental Strategies to Keep on Running

Running isn’t just about your physical attributes.

It’s also about ensuring you have the required mental strength and toughness.

Along the way I’ve had lots of ups and downs, ranging from personal best performances to major injuries, and there has been plenty happening outside of the running trainers too!

It’s a known fact that life has its highs and lows, but it’s what we do with the extremes that has an impact. 

After running for so many years, I realise what this sport has given me: endurance, patience and perseverance.

The dictionary definition of endurance is “the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions”.

Difficult training sessions and tough runs are inevitable. To get better, usually we focus on the physical side of training, like improving your technique. Whilst it’s essential to prepare physically, mental strength is absolutely essential, particularly for longer runs. When you’re preparing for a race, take into account some of these mental strategies to ensure that you’re not only fully prepared physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

Tips For Improving Your Mental Strength When Running 

Commitment is very important when you’re starting a running career or training for a competition. When you’re committed, it means that you have accepted the challenge: the start, finish and everything in between.

Set goals

The trend today seems to be that people have goals but are not dedicated to the steps required to achieve that goal.

But setting goals, understanding them and working to achieve them is essential.

It can be easier to achieve goals if you break them up – for example, rather than setting one goal of running a marathon, break this up into smaller, attainable goals like running a 5k, 10k, half marathon and so on. Breaking goals into micro-distances like this also works during a race and can be a great way to keep you going – if you’re on a long run, congratulate yourself when you pass small goals you’ve set yourself.

When we asked the Virtual Runner community what their mental strategies for running are, setting small goals was one of the most frequent answers we got. Chris Richards and Kristen Hoset both use small goals like the next lamppost or tree to keep them going.

Thinking about the distance in smaller chunks can really help too, and make a run seem less intimidating. Virtual Runner Hayley Scullion uses this technique, pointing out that a 13.1 mile run is four three mile runs and a home straight, which  isn’t as overwhelming!

It takes physical and mental endurance to push through a long run, but celebrating the small victories certainly helps!  

Envision Achieving the Goals

This is another reason why setting goals is essential: it allows you to create a clear mental image of you achieving it, which does wonders for motivation.

Experts recommend that you create as thorough a mental image as possible. Cover all five senses and create a really clear picture of what it’ll be like finishing that marathon, for example. This can also work really well to help calm your nerves before a race – prepare beforehand by creating an image of what the start of a race will be like, and by mentally preparing for all the different stimuli, you can help keep calm on the day.

Maintain A Positive Mindset

Essential to maintaining mental strength when running is having a positive mindset.

There are a number of ways you can maintain a positive and confident mindset, one of which is having a mantra. Repeating a phrase in your head when you’re running can help you get through tough situations and avoid negative thoughts. This blog has some great info on elite runners’ mantras and why they’re helpful!

When you’re exhausted, it can be too easy to slip into negative thoughts about how tired you are, or how you you’ll have to stop running soon. Moving into a negative mindset can have a physical effect on your body – so try and counter negative thoughts with positivity. Virtual Runner Carrie Barker reminds herself that slowing down isn’t a big deal – don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and try to relax and have fun!

Tim Sorrell uses a quote to keep him motivated and maintain that positive mindset. The quote is from ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, which is an inspiring read for any runner: ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’.


Lots of Virtual Runners use various methods to help focus their mind on something other than the run itself. Andrea Allen suggests making playlists for long distance runs, and faster songs for your shorter runs. Or, to keep you going on long distance runs, try listening to podcasts to keep you entertained, as Karen Carpenter points out.

A few other distraction techniques were mentioned: Lucy Burton plays the alphabet game – going through A to Z and trying to think, for example, of boys’ names, girls’ names, or places visited. Even simple counting can work – Rae Red counts to 100, with each footfall a number, which helps give her something to aim for!


Like a mantra, properly controlling your breathing is a fantastic way to keep your mind focused and stop it from wandering into thinking about how tired you are.

When done properly, breathing can help you manage stress. Deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, will calm your mind and body. Get these deep breaths in sync with the steps you’re taking – for example, a deep breath in might take two or three steps.

Like a mantra, this allows you to get in a certain ‘flow’ and really focus your mind – which is essential for those longer distances!

Perseverance & Patience

Patience is another important quality to hold on to when the going gets tough. Achieving a goal does not happen overnight and practice and lots of repetition is a must – both in terms of physical and mental qualities.

When you don’t reach a goal as fast as you’d like, keep in mind that good things take time. Remain calm and continue to train hard. 

Lastly, maintain your perseverance..

You must be steadfast when you are training. Be sure not to give up when a session is difficult. You have to push through the pain because it is only after this point that the goal is worth it! Remembering why you started in the first place and envisioning you reaching your goals will keep you on track during your toughest times.

Yes, running is hard and life outside of running can be busy.

But if you remember why you started and can picture how you’ll feel when you achieve your goals, that is what will keep you motivated.