Long Run Mental Toughness

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for an awesome and fun giveaway!! =) =)

Since I haven’t blogged since this post, I figured I’d share my workouts from last week with you.

Monday: 30 min bike (9.3 mi) + 5.5 mi speed workout.

  • 1/2 mile warm-up
  • 2 miles: 12:28
  • 2 x 1 mile: 6:07, 5:59 (1st sub-6 mile post-baby!)
  • 1/2 mile cool-down

Tuesday: 900 yd swim + 60 min bike (17.85 mi)

Wednesday: 900 yd swim + 5 mi tempo run. Swim went great – swam back-to-back days and arms felt totally fine.  Run: warmed up for the first mile (7:30 – started at 8:15 pace and was down to 6:30 for the last minute), stopped the treadmill, stretched one last time, caught my breath and began the workout.  My goal was 6:30 4 miles (No starting slow and speeding up). My legs were exhausted from back-to-back cycling and swim days but didn’t quit despite wanting to about 4010839302 times.

Thursday: 3 mile recovery run (7:50 pace).  Tested out the new Saucony Virrata shoes – initial impression is that I really like them…but I want to wear them a few more times before I do a review on them.

Friday: Ran 22 miles.  I had a long ride scheduled for Saturday (which I ended up not being able to do b/c of really bad chaffing) and lots of things planned for Sunday, so my only option (again) was to run the miles before my husband had to leave for work.  My two options were treadmill or outside in the freezing cold (it was 20 degrees but felt like 15 when I started).  I knew splitting it up between the two was not an option – if I ran the first few on the treadmill, I’d never brave the cold.  After the 20 miler on the treadmill two weeks ago, I really didn’t feel up to another long run on it just yet, so I opted for outside.

I had no idea what route I was going to take when I left the house.  I find that works better for me on my long runs – maybe it’s because I feel more in control of my fate if I decide on the fly…whatever the case, I initially planned to do a few 3-4  mile out and backs by my home but once I started running north I decided to keep going.  I knew this would force me to run up some major hills on my way back (and that I would hit them at miles 18-20) but I convinced myself that I would rather hurt in training then on March 17 when I’m dealing with the hills in Central Park for the NYC Half.

Even though the run was a success – I ran the mileage I set out for, hit the paces I wanted, finished with my fastest two miles, and ended with a high and a smile on my face – the entire run was NOT like this.  There were some high highs but some equally low lows.

I’ve come to expect this roller-coaster ride on long runs.  They happen to me on almost ALL of my long runs.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had a long run (over 16 miles) where every single mile was amazing.  I hit low points ALL the time in long runs.  It’s normal.  2+ hours is a long time to be running.  There will always be rough spots, doubt, slower miles…the key is being ready for them.  Expect them.  Be prepared to pull yourself out of the lows when you hit them.

Long runs are important for physical reasons.  They prep your body for the long race.  But I would argue that they are just as (if not more) important for the mental toughness it gives you.  

Not every mile of a marathon is going to be amazing.  Just like a long run, there will likely be some super low points.  But by completing some long runs in the training cycle, you are strengthening your mind and your mental toughness for race day.

Here are some ways that I approach the roller-coaster on a long run:

– Be ready for the lows. Expect them.  They WILL come.  Sometimes out of nowhere.  It won’t be such a shock when you feel yourself getting to that low point if you know it’s coming.  The initial reaction is to want to stop, quit and call it a day.  I wanted to do that at least 5-6 times on Friday.  But I kept running and eventually pulled myself out.

– Envision the race.  I do this ALL the time.  If I have less than 10 miles left on my long run, I start to picture myself running the last 3, 4, 10 miles of the marathon.  I have 5 miles left?  I’m at mile 21.2 of the marathon.  I see myself on the course.  I picture a time on my watch and tell myself I need to maintain x:xx pace for the remaining miles to hit my goal time.

Repeat a mantra.  Come up with your own mantra.  Something that works for you.  It can change for every long run.  On Friday, I repeated a mantra that my friend Leticia and I had discussed on Thursday:  Pain is temporary but a PR is forever. I repeated this to myself at least 100x towards the end of the run.  Over and over again.  It worked.

– Focus on smaller goals within the long run.  I hit my first “low” point at mile 5.  Yes. Only 5 miles in.  I felt great and my pace was right on track.  But, the thought of running another 17 miles totally consumed my mind and I couldn’t get past the idea of that many miles left.  I told myself that I would get to turn around in a few miles – I only had to run another few miles and then I would be able to run home.

Focus on one mile at a time.  I don’t ever start a long run and think that I have to run 22 miles at an 8 min/mile pace.  I tell myself to run that one mile at that pace.  I try to only think about the mile I’m running (it doesn’t always work – see above) – how much further (time and distance) until that mile is complete.

You can do anything for xx minutes.  If I hit a low during the last 45 min of the run, I tell myself that I can do anything for 24, 32, 40 minutes.  In the broad scheme of things, 32 minutes is nothing.

I finished the 22 miles in sub 2:53 (7:51 pace).  My splits were extremely even for the entire run despite the lows (and hills):

  • Mile 1: 8:07
  • Mile 2: 7:54
  • Mile 3: 7:52
  • Mile 4: 7:47
  • Mile 5: 7:46
  • Mile 6: 7:52
  • Mile 7: 7:54
  • Mile 8: 7:57
  • Mile 9: 7:59
  • Mile 10: 7:58
  • Mile 11: 7:55
  • Mile 12: 7:54
  • Mile 13: 7:44
  • Mile 14: 7:46
  • Mile 15: 7:49
  • Mile 16: 7:57
  • Mile 17: 7:59
  • Mile 18: 7:49
  • Mile 19: 7:53
  • Mile 20: 7:46
  • Mile 21: 7:37
  • Mile 22: 7:35

How do you deal with lows on a long run/race?  Any tips you’d like to share?

Did you run long or race this weekend? 

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    53 thoughts on “Long Run Mental Toughness

    1. Pingback: The Art (or Science?) of Positive Thinking: Introducing Three Wins | Staying On Track

    2. I find my long bike rides are the hardest, I often ride a path with some brutal hills and it is always windy here. I realized a few months after I took up cycling that I WILL have a kind of mental/emotional breakdown/catharsis about 2/3 of the way in. I start crying hysterically which can be a bit crazy going 20 miles an hour. But it feels so good afterwards.

      I have 2 mantras I alternate- “I am fast I am strong I am happy I am safe” and the other is “I am tough I am calm I endure and I win.”

    3. Pingback: Long Run Fail

    4. Those are some really amazing tips! I found that race visualization helped a lot – both to pull me through long runs and to help me out on marathon day. When I was having a tough time in the race I thought back to my long runs and what I did to pull myself out of the lows. Marathons (and Ironman) are roller coaster days. You just have to accept it and know that things will change!
      Leana recently posted..Back to BikramMy Profile

    5. Great post… I’m with you on this one. My run on Sunday was brutal. 4 miles in I wanted to make a left turn and I would be home within 5 minutes. I can back to that point at mile 8, a simple left and I’m home. Kept pushing on and logged my 20.

      Simple goals: Make it to that stop light. Ok. Make it to that intersection. Ok. Run through this song. etc.
      Pavement Runner recently posted..Running Back-to-Back DaysMy Profile

    6. Wow, you amaze me with your training. I had my second in July and I am no where near being able to run a 22 mile run, much less at that pace. But, it does inspire me and keeps me motivated to find time to train even though life is busy with two little kids. So, thanks for the motivation! Now that my baby is actually starting to sleep better, I hope to get some more consistent training in.
      stephanie recently posted..Seven MonthsMy Profile

    7. as usual–sound advice!! :) It is very exciting and motivating to follow your training. When I begin to feel the lows during long runs ( or this past weekend during a challenging half) I think of those people that can’t run. Or my friends and family that have passed and I know they are pulling for me still… sounds hokey but it works everytime.

    8. I am training for my first half marathon, so at this point my longest run is 7 miles. :) I did a 7 mile run this past Saturday, and when I felt sluggish, I kept reminding myself that I am doing this for a purpose, that each and every run is towards my goal of becoming a long distance runner. I thought about how great it feels to cross a finish line, and how accomplished I will feel when I cross the finish line at my first half marathon. That kept me going and I ended up have a great run that day!
      Alicia recently posted..Summer 2012 RacesMy Profile

    9. You are an inspiration, Michele — final doc’s apptmt post foot surgery, and I am preparing my cross-country skis and snowshoes for the remainder of the spring snows!

    10. First post baby race in Greenwich Village on Saturday! I tend to go with the focusing on that mile, and avoiding passing by our building on my route. Because once I do that, I know I will want to go inside.
      Emily @ FitMamaInTheCity recently posted..Fun FridayMy Profile

    11. You are amazing. I love following your training and seeing you pour your heart and soul into it AND how far you’ve come already. Such great tips for long runs or frankly any run!! I like to try to break the miles up mentally in my mind and repeat a mantra. There are always so many highs and lows in each long run!
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Let the training beginMy Profile

    12. I really enjoyed reading your long run tips, and so many of them resonate with me too. I especially love the first one about preparing yourself mentally for the lows. It is an amazing thing when you power through a terrible low and come out on the other side stronger and more powerful. This is what I’m going to focus on for my half marathon in April. I’m going for a big goal, and I know to get there it is going to be really hard. It’s going to hurt. And I have to remind myself that is going to be what it takes to reach my goal and be prepared to get through the mental pain. Congrats on an awesome and very consistent long run!!!
      Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..The Results are in: 28-Day Transformation Challenge RecapMy Profile

      • YAY for big goals…that’s the only way to race in my opinion – gives you something to shoot for!!!
        There are so many times during a race – even short ones – where I have moments of doubt. Teaching ourselves to talk our way out of those moments is key =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Long Run Mental ToughnessMy Profile

    13. Yay for the road on your long run! I couldn’t agree with you more about the ups and downs of long runs and races. I honestly think that learning that was key for me to succeed in marathons. It’s something I always remind myself of when I’m in a low in a marathon–that if I can just ride it out, a better moment will come. It pretty much always does, unless something is really off!
      misszippy1 recently posted..Daring I am notMy Profile

    14. impressive! i’m in complete awe of you – mom of 2, fierce athlete, wife! Well done lady! i agree, running with a mantra really helps keep your focus. I often say “I can, so I will” xx

    15. While training for my first marathon this past fall just about every long run was a low for me. I then dreaded each next long run. It was a bad cycle. Now I am loving my long runs, although they are only around 10 miles since I’m training for a half. I love the idea of envisioning the race! I never thought about trying that but you can bet I’m going to next time I’m suffering during my long run!
      Shannon @ Mon Amour recently posted..To Get There, You Have to Go ThereMy Profile

      • Ugh. That’s a tough cycle to get out of. I’m actually planning on doing a post about getting into/out of a cycle like that (whether good or bad). Good runs breed good runs and vice versa.
        Hope some of the tips work for you!! =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Long Run Mental ToughnessMy Profile

    16. Great tips (and great run)! I really agree about breaking up the run in your head. I always liked starting long runs at Arlington Cemetery and then running into DC and then back to VA. It would be like 2 miles in Virginia but then a 6 or 7 mile loop around DC, that was easy to break up with the landmarks, and then 2 miles back in VA. Multistate runs for the win :)
      Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted..CrossFit Foundations – Almost Done!My Profile

      • Whoa. Two states. That is pretty cool to say that you can do that on a run. HA =) When I lived in NYC, it was awesome to do runs where you had to run someplace to get to your loop – the miles there/back were so easy and seemed to fly by =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Long Run Mental ToughnessMy Profile

      • Thanks, Laura!! I actually finally uploaded all of my garmin data from the last yr (I’m so bad at uploading it to Garmin connect) and really saw the improvements in my long runs. Felt good to see =)
        Can’t wait for tomorrow! =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Long Run Mental ToughnessMy Profile

    17. I find I struggle with mental toughness more on tempo runs than long runs but it is challenging at times to find the motivation to go on a long run by myself. With long runs breaking it up really does help. I also remind myself that the pace is much slower than a tempo so it will feel easier. I know different courses based on mileage near my house and I try to break them into 3-5 mile increments. I also stop very briefly for water/ fuel at least 3 times during a 20 miler. When a friend can run part with me it also really helps. In the fall during my NYC training one of my friends ran the second half of a 21 miler with me and it flew by. I did not even feel like I was doing a long run. But when I’m on my own the miles seem to tick by much slower!
      Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..Light Up the Night 5K Race Report- a surprise {Unofficial} PR!My Profile

      • That sounds awesome. I wish I had someone to run with…the miles sometimes go by fast but other times seem to take forever :/ And I agree – tempo runs for me are WAY harder – takes some serious mental talking to get through some of those miles. How are you doing? Are you feeling better after last week? I have to read your blog – getting SO excited for your upcoming race!! =) =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Long Run Mental ToughnessMy Profile

    18. Great advice! When I hit a low, I usually change the display on my Garmin to show what time it is rather than my pace/distance/how long I’ve been running. It helps me to stop obsessing about how much longer I have to run. If that doesn’t work, I try to focus on running to a landmark (tree, mailbox, etc.) and then finding new landmarks to run to once I reach my “destination.”
      Maureen recently posted..Motivation MondayMy Profile

    19. I have a few tricks I use on long runs. I have a 8 k loop that I tack on first so that my out and back isn’t as long. When I do an out and back I only focus on the out portion, then I have to run back to get home.

      I also will schedule part of the run with a friend or my husband.

      I am not running super long runs right now, just HM distances. This weekends LR was tough. I really didn’t feel well for the first 5k, then perked up and felt great and then for the last 5 I started to tire out.