Mental Toughness for Long Runs

Long runs take a lot of mental toughness.

If you are a marathon runner or aspiring marathon runner, the thought of running 15-20 miles at once can seem daunting.

When I first started running about 8 years ago at the University of Iowa, I was quite content with 5 miles.  Actually, I vividly remember thinking “Boston… that is never going to be a goal of mine because I am too slow, and can’t run over 5 miles.”  It is funny how things change.  Now, the only thing on my mind in regards to running is Boston.  I have gotten much faster and stronger (with a LOT of hard work and dedication) and feel like I have a good chance to BQ this year.

However, I still look at those 20 mile runs and think.. really?!

Having run 3 marathons and many, many half marathons, anything under 12 miles is considered easy.  However, I consider 15-20  miles a good, long run.  Okay, so what about 13-14 miles?  I consider those medium distance runs.

I have a few tricks to get myself “excited” about the long runs.



I often break my longer runs into smaller portions. For me, it allows me to look at the run as several “short runs”, instead of one insanely long run. If I have a 15 or 20 mile run, I will do 3 or 4 loops of 5 miles.  I know I can easily run 5 miles, so I mentally trick myself that I am running 3-4 “easy” 5 mile loops. For me it greatly helps.  If I am running 16 miles, I will break it into 4 4-mile loops. You just have to get creative on how you break up your running.

Talk up the run!


It may sound weird, but I often tell myself the night before how fun my run will be.  I’ve found that if I pump myself up and tell myself that I will enjoy my run and it will be great, I actually enjoy the run much more and look forward to it.  Try it!

Lay Your Clothes Out Before a Run


If I run in the morning (usually around 5 am) I will lay my clothes out the night before.  It helps me in the morning (I know it saves only 1-2 minutes) but I feel more prepared.  I don’t know if it is the OCD mind that I have, but I have to run if my clothes are laid out.

Reward Yourself

I usually run my long runs on Sunday’s (this is the most common long run day, due to 99% of all marathons being on Sunday’s).  I often reward myself after a long run.  It gives me something to look forward to.  Rewards can be non-monetary (most of mine are!) I love to come home after a long run and make whole whole pancakes with chocolate chips.  I often reward myself with lounging on the couch and reading a good book.  Whatever works for you, go for it!



I’ve said before, but I am a huge motivational quote junkie.  I will often read one of my favorite running quotes, or look through one of my “Runner’s World” magazines.



I often tell people that I am training for a marathon, and more specifically that I have a long run coming up.  It holds me accountable for my training. The more people that know about your training, the more people will ask you about it.

Running Buddy


I can’t stress how much a running buddy helps.  I usually do not have a problem getting out the door for a run.  However, having a running buddy makes my runs extra fun, and give me something to look forward to.  Whenever my twin sister and I are together we go for a run.  We have so much fun!  I don’t run with someone for every run, but having a running buddy once a week can give you something to look forward to. Sometimes my husband will ride his bike next to me during longer runs and carry my water bottle.  Even though I don’t usually chat with him during the run, it makes my runs easier and more enjoyable.


Through my marathons, I have learned that mental toughness is just as important (if not more) as physical toughness. You just need to find what really works for you.


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