Stay motivated in the long run

Dom Cadden

Increasing your endurance is more complicated than simply going out a bit further or for a longer time. Your body will respond best to using a variety of techniques regularly. Here are some of the tried and true methods to mix into your training, but there are endless variations of these, too.

man on mountain - motivation

Break up your run

In any long run, it’s good to break it up into segments. I’m the master of fractions when I’m running, ticking off the one-fifth mark, then the quarter, and so on. You can even use this on difficult sub-sections such as hills and mountains – don’t overwhelm yourself by looking up at the distance ahead, focus on a closer point, get there, and choose the next point.

Monitor your body

Pay close attention to what you’re doing, how your foot hits the ground, your stride, your posture. Do a check over your whole body, top to bottom. Are your neck and shoulders relaxed? Are you breathing deeply? How’s your arm swing? Do you need to slow down to pull it all together? Some runners lose themselves in this, like it’s a soothing, moving meditation that helps create rhythm and gets them through both times they feel great and times they struggle.

Switch your route

A Swedish friend schedules what he calls “discovery runs” – he has a goal time or distance that he wants to run, but he goes somewhere new and runs as and where he feels, until it’s time for the return leg. This helps relieve training boredom, challenges you with different terrain and it spurs you into the good habit of appreciating your surroundings and looking to be stimulated by the environment that you run through. Even if you don’t change the area you run, change the streets or tracks you use, or the direction.

Use visualisation

Visualise yourself still running strong at the finish of a race or the end of your training, and imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel from what you have achieved.

Remind yourself why you do this

What is your internal motivation? What do these runs give you or enable you to do? During the long, dull, after-work runs close to my inner-city home, I reminded myself that I did this so that I had the fitness and endurance to go to beautiful places in the world that could only be reached by foot. And maybe helicopter.

Make plans

Think about when you’ll speed up, slow down, drink, and all the what-if scenarios – it will help you stay focused and not fall apart if something unexpected does happen. Have a post-run plan – something great to look forward to after you’re done.

Use a mantra

Pick a short phrase that reminds you of the simple things, or how strong you are. Keep it all about you, rather than external factors (e.g. “I can win this!” depends on external factors). A popular one among ultra-runners is, “one foot in front of the other”. After a couple hundred kilometres, I used “Beast mode!” to remind myself that there will come a time when the body and the mind adapt and kick into automatic. Another one is the Levant proverb, “this too shall pass”, which means that you have to make the most of the good sections and just grit through the rough parts, because for both, it’s just a matter of time before they’re over.

Make it social

…but not all the time, because in the end, you usually race alone. Try doing an out and back, using each other to spur yourselves on the out section, then one of you have a head-start on the way back and do a pursuit. That will distract you and drive you to push harder on the return.

Use music… sparingly

I’m not a big fan of listening to music while running, because often it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you and appreciate the environment you’re in. Also, if you use music all the time, you can come to rely on it – and there are events, even marathons and ultramarathons, that don’t allow the use of earphones. Save music for when you really need it to get through particularly difficult parts of a run or when your motivation is flagging. There are many studies about the appropriate music and beats per minute for different activities, but overriding the science is the simple fact that whatever music you find uplifting will help because of how it affects your attitude.

Fuel up

Plunging glycogen levels can suck all motivation from you – and make you crabby! Sure, you’ve probably heard of the benefits of glycogen-depletion training, but people who do it will tell you that it’s tough both physically and mentally. Unless you’re deliberately doing this training (once a week is enough), make sure you have some carbohydrates in the couple hours before your run and take simple carbs on the run if you’re out for over 90 minutes.