5 Ways to Stay Motivated During Long Runs

If you are not a runner, the chances are, you have asked me about what I think about during all those miles of running, or how I do not get bored. Running 70-90 miles a week, mostly alone, means a lot of thinking, and plenty of time for those negative thoughts to creep in, so what the heck do I think about to distract myself?

Earlier this year, during yet another discussion with my dad about why I struggle to sleep, dad suggested that maybe it was because my running time was when my mind processes all that is going on in my life. As much as I laughed at him at the time, I think it could be true! Especially because I enjoy doing most of my running by myself as it gives me time to think, and I do not have to worry about keeping pace with anyone else.

A lot of the time when I am running on my own, I honestly couldn’t tell you what I think about. If you asked for a summary after the run, I could probably give you about 3 things I thought about. The rest of the time it is just processing and zoning out.

That being said, running is a great time to think, to process, and to think about what you want out of your future. Here are my 5 productive things to think about during runs.

Elite runner Tina Muir shares her insight on what she thinks about during runs to prepare. Great motivation on how to get the most out of your running.

1. Visualize a goal race

What do I do?

In the 6 weeks prior to a big race, I will go through exactly how I want the race to plan out. This is very detailed, and needs to almost feel as if I am living it. I am sure people think I am crazy, especially when I get to the part when I visualize crossing the finish line, throwing my hands up into the air with satisfaction. I will go through this 2-3 times in a regular 9 mile run, each time taking around 10 minutes to “run it”.


If you want to really achieve those goals, you really need to spend some time each day going through your race plan, not just imagining it, but feeling it. When it comes to that part of crossing the line, you need to actually throw your hands up, like really do it(!!). This means seeing every detail of that moment clearly in your mind.

This includes running into the arms of a loved one, what you will say, looking at the finish clock in shock, and all those little things that make you believe it is going to happen. If you feel silly doing it, that is okay, would you rather feel silly in front of a few strangers and achieve your goal, or worry about what they think, and risk not getting there? I know what I would choose 🙂

2. Concentrate on your running form

What do I do?

You read my post last week about what they found at the UVA Speed Clinic about my running form. Since Max showed me what to do, I have been concentrating incredibly hard on the changes he suggested. This requires full concentration, and means it can be difficult to hold a conversation if I really want to do it right. However, it is worth it! I noticed the improvements almost immediately.


This is probably the least exciting one, but is incredibly important, especially if you have a certain inefficiency that is particularly bad by the end of a race. The UVA Speed Clinic had a phrase “practice makes permanent” and that is true. If you do it right, or do it wrong, you are making your body repeat that movement over and over. How can you expect your body to maintain form when you are hurting, if you cannot even complete the movement correctly when you are easy running. You need to work on making it automatic as much as possible, it will be worthwhile.

3. Think about your life

What do I do?

Whoa, that sounds intense, but it is not as deep as you think! I often spend at least a few minutes going through how I want my day to play out. I imagine myself going to bed with a smile saying “I had a very productive day. What a great day!” This is often the time I use to think about what is most important to me. What do I want out of my life right now?


By thinking about it, consciously or unconsciously, you will start to put yourself on the path to get there. This is a great time to really come to terms with all that is happening in your life. You can process what is going on, and even solve problems (this goes back to what my dad was saying about this being like a form of REM Sleep). If you can organize your day during the run, you can get back to the house knowing what needs to be done, with a loose plan of how you will get there.

4. Enjoy the simplicity of running

What do I do?

I sometimes take my running for granted: Forgetting that running is a privilege, and one that should be cherished. It is only when I have an injury scare, or read an inspiring story that I really appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do it. Recently, I have been making a conscious effort to think about how wonderful the motion of running feels; the wind in your hair; the sound of your footsteps in the morning; the quiet calm; your rhythmic breathing. These do not even include the beauty of nature all around you!


This means enjoying running for what it is; putting one foot in front of the other. Our sport is not like other sports, you do not have to use lots of equipment, you can simply take in the beauty that is all around you. Especially those runs that are done early in the morning with the sun rising, or late at night when your senses are alive and the adrenaline pumps through you. Those are the runs that should be most appreciated.

5. You can do this!

What do I do?

I talked about all the things to think about when things are (mostly) going well, but what about those days when you are struggling? I like everyone else go through those days (and I have had a lot of them recently) where I just want to be done, I just want to stop. These are the times when those positive thoughts have to fight their way through. I tend to go through each of the above thoughts, and then just finish it with “come on Tina, you can do this”.


Say it out loud if you need to. Remind yourself of how far you have come (either in that run, or in your running life overall). You will be even more proud of yourself at the end of a run/workout/race if you have struggled through it, yet you found a way to still get a lot out of it. Believe in all you can do, and do not be afraid to take your foot off the pedal, especially if you are supposed to be on an easy day (check out this post).

At the end of the day, running should be enjoyed, and turning those negative thoughts into positive is one way to get there. Think of your favorite inspirational quote, or focus on what is feeling good; If your legs hurt, focus on how your breathing is calm; If your fingers are numb, at least you will appreciate that nice cup of cocoa when you finish!

Hopefully this has helped. I know these thoughts help me, and they take up most of my running. As most runners already know, running is about slugging your way through most days, so that those good days can happen. At least this way, you can make sure your mind is thinking proactively! And if you are still having a hard time with those negative thoughts impacting your runs I have a WHOLE module in my Mile 20 Mental Training Course dedicated to distraction in much more detail just for you.

What do you think about while running? How do you turn your positive thoughts into negative?

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  • I really try not to be negative ever. I don’t get many negative thoughts while running but if I start to get tired, that’s when negative can try to come in. When that happens, I switch my thought process – I go from counting miles down to minutes. It’s those last few miles that can get me so if I am tired and getting negative, I say, you only have a few minutes left which sounds better than two miles left lol…I don’t even know what I think about while out there – my mind goes all over the place. Sometimes I try to think about nothing. Sometimes I just listen to my music and think about whatever it reminds me of and sometimes I put on my race play list to spark those happy racing I can do this feeling.

  • Emma Cross Moyer
    December 31, 2014 6:23 am

    I didn’t realize you went to UVA! That’s only an hour from me (and my alma for grad school) . I’m usually on the treadmill for a long run because of the babies, so my motivation is the TV! Whatever works, right?

    Emma @ be mom strong

  • i tend to do the top 2 and 3. 3 being a lot… clears the mind, right? haha

  • I do a lot of thinking and enjoying the simplicity! These are great tips, I agree with all of them!

  • #1 & 3 I do a lot (when I’m running that is). If I think about form, I end up over thinking it and messing it up. If I think about something that makes me angry, I actually slow down. I try to keep my thoughts positive. I find that helps. I usually have so much to think about on a run aka get off my chest that the time zips by in the blink of an eye.

  • I do all of these. I have music on in the background (cheating, I know), so sometimes, I just jump into the beat, or imagine that the song is play in my head. It helps me get my BPM back up. But yeah, you just gotta stay positive! I also have a few chants/mantras (as simple as you just gotta keep on going) that help me measure out my step and keep me going!

  • I do try to visualize my form when I get tired on long runs and it really helps. I try to give myself little positive reviews as I go along. Great tips as usual! happy New Year my friend and happy running!

  • I love #4. There have been several times in my life where I have not been able to run due to illness. It makes you appreciate the times you can run even more. Running is such a beautifully simple thing.

  • Lisa@runningoutofwine
    December 31, 2014 9:15 am

    I usually can’t remember what I think about during my runs either. Sometimes I think about form but that usually only lasts a few minutes before I get distracted! I also think about what I have to do that day, and figure out how I will get it all done. I find that I enjoy workouts because it keeps my mind focused on what I need to do for my run, rather than just letting my mind wander. However, there is also something to do said for the days where I do an easy run and just let my mind go wherever it wants!

  • Great tips Tina- I use 3 & 4 a lot. If it’s not to hilly, I can zone out and think about life– for me those are the most rewarding runs. I am constantly being interrupted by my family’s needs, so being able to think with out those disturbances really refreshes me mentally. If I am at the end of a run and really struggling, thinking about my form is also very helpful. Enjoy the last day of 2014! xo

  • I am always amazed at how much my mind can wonder during my runs and how much clarity I can get with things going on in life. Focusing on my form has been a priority of mine lately and I definitely fall into the category of what you mentioned about my form falling apart at the end of a race – I look like I’m collapsing on myself and it is definitely something I want to improve on!

  • Lake Shore Runner
    December 31, 2014 10:51 am

    I am with you on not being able to tell people what I think about while I run. I think about life – what I can plan next. I also do math equations in my head to pass the time. Weird I know!

  • My favorite runs are when I cannot remember what I was thinking about…Those are usually easy, relaxed, and fun runs! The harder ones involve a lot of pep talks to myself, since I am usually always running alone. I love running alone, because it is me time that allows me to think about anything and everything. It’s one of the many reasons why i love to run!

  • I love using visualization to get me through, but I have never actually included the physical motion of throwing up my arms like I am at the finish. I love it, though! People already think I am crazy because I run so much, so why not help foster the reputation a little bit?

  • Heather @fitncookies
    December 31, 2014 12:12 pm

    I do a lot of these. I am like you and can’t really tell you much of what I think about, but I use the time to either process what’s going on or think through some issues. Sometimes I think of workouts, or think of lesson plans ha a

  • I agree with all of these! Visualizing race day proved to be a very important key to my running year. I also know I need to work on my form. I need to read a little more about how to do that! I run alone 95% of the time and so I can really relate to zoning out and just enjoying the run.

  • I love the tips- and really all of your tips. Visualizing is so important- when I was training for a marathon, I used to do yoga each week and each week during the savasana, that’s when I would visualize my running finish because I was in yoga mainly to recover/stretch from running. When running, I just try to stay positive and one thing is I try not to look at my watch because I’m never really happy with my paces. Even in a race I try not to look until it’s done, because that’s something else I’ll think and worry about. I love to hear how you manage to run so many miles especially since you work too!

    I think it’d be really fun if you ever wanted to share form tips. I have a form issue with moving my shoulders too much (one guy I run with jokes that he’s scared I’ll elbow people beside me like I’m in roller derby). I have been trying to pay attention to it on easier runs though and maybe that will help!

  • I really need to start focusing on my form. I remember to a few times during my run and am able to stick to it for a short period of time and then I lose focus. Great list!

  • I visualize all the time when I’m on the treadmill – which usually happens a couple times per week in the winter, so come spring, I’ve had quite a bit of practice 🙂
    I’ve been trying to concentrate on form more when I do hills or speedwork. It’s a double dose of hard! For the most part, what I love about running is being able to zone out, or get lost in conversation with friends, but focusing on form takes work, especially when all I can think about is my legs and lungs burning!

  • I do all of these Tina! I had a lot of time to learn when training for ultras 🙂

  • I’m a total nerd and spend time calculating splits/time/etc. On mega runs I count – 1 to 100 over and over. Clearly I’m pretty easily entertained!

  • Oh, maybe you have some more insight to this–how to get rid of competitive guilt? Or the “doing enough” and “overachieving” attitude guilt? As an athlete sometimes I have that, and I know others who are non athletes but people such as moms and business people have that all or nothing attitude too.

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