The mental side of running a long way

Unfortunatly, this isn’t me. Terefe Maregu had a good run on July 4, 2008 winning the AJC Peachtree Road Race. JOHNNY CRAWFORD/ AJC

Just about anyone that has run more than a few times knows a big part of a good run is mental. I can’t put a number on it – say running is 65 or 75 percent in your head and the rest your legs – but I know my psyche plays a big part in my runs. More than half the total thought/effort when I run is in my head.

There is no way I could have run the entire Publix half-marathon earlier this year just on how my legs were working. From about five or six miles in until the end, I was in pain; from Georgia Tech until the finish, a lot of pain. But I told myself I was going to finish the thing (my first half-marathon in three-plus years), so I did in a pretty decent time.

Wednesday, in the crazy pre-severe weather winds that felt like they were also blowing against me, I had a very good run. Despite the weather – wind plus the beginnings of the heat and humidity – I felt good and ran quick. It was my fastest run on my three-mile training loop in the four months I’ve been back in Atlanta. Two days ago, I attempted the same run, and it was miserable. I couldn’t finish it without stopping to catch my breath. One of the worst, if not the worst, runs since I’ve been back.

Here’s my theory (call me crazy below, if you like): Monday, I was nervous before a meeting and awaiting some news. Today, I had just received that news and it was all very positive. I was in a great mood when I left my house, and I figure that carried on throughout the run.

There will be the days you’re feeling great (like me today). There will be the miserable training runs where every step is awful, and you can’t wait to be done. Your grand plan for a solid five-mile outing becomes a two-mile effort to go out and make it back home. Is my theory wrong? How do you make it through the bad days to get back to the good ones?

5 comments Add your comment

Diet Coke Girl

April 27th, 2011
7:48 pm

I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!!! I was just sitting here thinking why today was so hard and yesterday was easier… When I think about having to run, thats when my runs go wrong… Seems as though when the run is horrid, the minutes feel like hours… But yes it is all very mental..


April 27th, 2011
8:52 pm

It is just that way, sometimes it is all I can do to run 3 miles then I can go and run 7 like it was nothing. A lot of things take into place, what you ate the day before, what time you run, what’s on your mind. I think the biggest thing is, at least even on a bad day run you have exercised and gave it a shot. You just have to know you are going to have days like that and don’t beat yourself up. I ran my first Marathon in January and my IT band screamed at me the entire 26.2 miles but I just took it one mile at a time, tried to get involved in everything around me and I finished. Not quite as fast I would have liked but I did finish. It’s not about how far or how fast it is about getting out there and just doing it.


April 28th, 2011
7:10 am

just listen to your body in order to avoid injury. One of the most difficult things for beginners is the difference between soreness, pain and injury. Pushing through soreness is rewarding, but be careful not to injure yourself.

I am 42 and have been running for years. I currently put in about 45-50 miles per week. Forget about the bad days immediately…tomorrow is just a short time away. Sometimes, once you get half-way through a bad turns into a decent one.

Gen Neyland

April 28th, 2011
7:36 am

Eyestone calls the long run the ‘Meat and potatoes’ of a training plan. In essence, don’t skip it. Long can be defined as 22 miles or 6 miles, depending on one’s goal and if you’re a runner, no more explanation is needed. Moving ahead to the physical-mental aspects, who among us hasn’t fought off those demons at some point..? Having to face and accept our personal limitations isn’t a weakness, it’s a reality else pain and suffering will follow. Those of us that learned the hard way (some more than once, me included) eventually learn to approach training with caution and stay within ourselves, venturing beyond the edge with careful steps so as not to repeat past mistakes that sat us down and kept us from the starting line. Mentally, every runner must get their mind right when affected by this one. Don’t let the mental part whip you, run through it as best as you can knowing a better day is just around the corner…

fun runner

April 28th, 2011
1:34 pm

I think you are right about the mental part. At various times I have kept a running journal, keeping track a year at a time of things like what I ate, time of day, temperature etc. The only thing I could never account for was the mental aspect of the run. Some days are just grueling, other days exhilarating. But I haven’t a clue as to why. I have speculated that there are also deeper bio-rhythms at work but who knows. It makes me feel better to know that the elite athletes simply say some days it just isn’t your day.