What should you think about while running?
Published 18 December 2019. Written by Chris Worfolk.
Long runs (or any workouts) leave you with a lot of time to spend with your thoughts. For a lot of athletes, this can be uncomfortable. How do you fill the time? In this article, I'll offer some suggestions.
I used to listen to music while I ran. It was something to focus on during those long runs. But, when I moved over to triathlon, I knew I would have to spend a lot more time in my own head, as music is not allowed in races. It is also a bad idea when cycling on the open road, as it is even more important to pay attention to cars and pedestrians.
So, I killed the music. I set about acclimatising myself to working out without any distractions. Many of the triathlon psychology techniques can be applied here. Below, I will break down some of the most useful ones.
The world around you
If you are running outdoors, there is a whole world of sights, sounds and smells around you. Focusing on them, rather than your internal thoughts is a form of mindfulness.
So, drink it in. See what you can see. Hear what you can hear. The scenery passing by you. The sky above you. And maybe even an occasional glance at the ground to make sure you stay upright.
The present moment
This is part two of using mindfulness while running.
If you are familiar with mindfulness, you will know it is all about living in the moment. That means not dwelling on the past or thinking about the future.
Avoiding this is critical in triathlon because, if you start thinking about how far you still have go, you can experience fatigue and despair. So, keep those thoughts rooted in the present moment.
The next kilometre marker
Part of avoiding the feeling of overwhelm from having a long way to go is breaking the workout down into small chunks.
How far as you from the next kilometre marker? Doing this is an easy way to chunk the race, especially when you are hurting. Do not try and convince yourself you can make it to the end. Just agree with yourself that you will keep the pace up until the next kilometre marker. Then you can renegotiate with yourself.
I use a lot of mental imagery while running. Mental imagery, also known as visualisation, is performing a skill in your mind.
Of course, when you are running, you do not want to be closing your eyes and cutting out the world around you. But you can still indulge in some imagery while paying attention to your surroundings. Especially as imagery is as much about the sounds and feelings as it is the visuals.
I think about finishing the rest of the race while feeling strong and confident. Crossing the finish line. Being able to tell my club mates the time I achieved and how I kept battling to the end.
Checking in with your technique is often a useful thing to do. Making sure that you are standing tall, breathing smoothly and relaxing your shoulders now and then will help you stay relaxed and on target. Trigger words can be a great way to cue ourselves.
In a race situation, technique can be a double-edged sword, however. If we focus on it too much, we can get caught up in the details and over-think it.
A classic example of doing this is if you have ever forgotten a key code (alarm code, building access code, etc.). If you forget it, you can usually remember it by turning off your brain and letting your hand punch it in in a sort of automatic way.
The same thing can be true of technique. Sometimes, we just need to see the end result (running quickly and smoothly) and let our body and our training worry about the rest.
Distraction, such as music or chatting with training partners, does have a place. Sometimes you need to get the miles in and do not want to do another practice in sitting with your thoughts. Personally, I enjoy a good audiobook as it means I can still hear other runners and potential hazards.
A good song-a-long
When all else fails, especially when I am on the bike and all else has failed, I resort to a karaoke tune. Typically some upbeat rock number, or if things are really bad, maybe even a little of Madonna's Like A Prayer.
This does not have to involve singing aloud, and typically won't if I am working hard. But on longer, easier training rides, the hills of Yorkshire are alive with the sound of off-key music.