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Running: It’s So Much About Mental Toughness

Mental toughness

I’ve only run 6 or more miles at a time a few times in my life. The 10K I did a few years back. The Tough Mudder, which was broken up by obstacles. And now, as I’m currently training for my half marathon in the fall. I’ve got a handful of long runs like that coming up, and as long as I stay injury-free — knock on wood — I’ve realized that running is like 99 percent mental toughness.

As I ran 6 miles recently, nothing hurt. My legs were kind of tired at the end. But I went about the rest of my day as usual. I didn’t take it especially easy or need a rest. I wasn’t even sore the next day. But as I was running, I found myself wanting to stop. I’d check in with myself: Are you hurting? No. Are you especially tired? No. Do your lungs need you to slow down? No. How’s your heart rate? Fine. That’s when I realized distance running is all about keeping your mind occupied. It’s all about continuing to run, putting one foot in front of the other even if you’re bored silly.

I have a unique runner’s situation in that I don’t get a ton of road miles in. It’s been blisteringly hot and oppressively humid, so even if I was one to get up at the crack of dawn, it wouldn’t even be tolerable then. Plus, I’ve got my three kids with me full-time, so I get in my runs at the gym, on a treadmill. Treadmill running isn’t the most stimulating running. No varied terrain, no change in scenery. The other day I found myself wishing I had the guts to be one of those treadmill dancers. But I’m too afraid to fall and also too self conscious to even just dance with my arms.


I people watch. I see people doing shorter runs come and go. I wipe my sweat. I take a sip of water. I count how many songs have played. I play with my speed and incline. I’ve gotten to know the same success stories played on repeat at the gym. The other day I started doing interpretive dance in my head. I also pass my time rolling my eyes at certain political candidates — I’ll let you guess which one. Mostly, I try to both think and zone out.

It may be a little boring, but it should make 13.1 miles on race day fly by. I’ll be in Brooklyn. It’ll be cool out. I’ll have new terrain and scenery. And I’ll be running with my husband, so I’ll have built-in entertainment. I’ve just gotta get there!

What kinds of interesting mental gymnastics do you do to pass the time on distance runs? I can use some tips or I might start actually dancing. —Erin

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