It’s tough to stay energized during long runs, especially when alone. What do I do for inspiration?
Over the years, I’ve experimented with many techniques and tools for getting the most out of long training sessions without going crazy, getting demotivated or burning out. I’m happy to share what has consistently worked, so in this post I describe 9 ways to create energy and inspiration in your extended training sessions.
Before we dive into the list, I’d like to mention that the term “long run” is relative. My first “long run” lasted 20 minutes — about 15 minutes longer than I thought I could make it! Later, I’d do 6-hour or even 12+ hour solo long runs in training for races like the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and Marathon des Sables. Talk about mind-numbing–for better or worse, that’s a LONG time to be alone in your mind! Again, long is relative–if I take a year off from ultra running, 90 minutes starts to feel long again–and sure, sometimes even 30 minutes feels a bit long.
Regardless of what “long” is for you, I know it can be a challenge at times to run solo for an extended period of time. Let’s look at some cool tips to help.
Top 9 techniques
1. Listen and Learn: From inspiring podcasts, such as Wellness Force Radio, to instructional shows and pure entertainment, I often invest in my growth by doubling down on mind and body training during long runs. This is a great time as well to listen to audio books, language courses and music that really reaches you. Take a little time a day before each long run to prepare what you want to listen to–you don’t want to waste time during a run dealing with downloads, weak wireless signals, etc.
2. Make it a mission or adventure: Don’t just go out and log junk miles and junk minutes. Allow yourself to have some fun with a mission theme. I’ve used spy games, mock escapes (running from one town to another without getting fake “detected”), mock adventure races (yes, get muddy!), and simple variety, such as running in bad weather, well before sunrise, or in an entirely new area. How about running to a lake, swimming across it, and running home? You can also run point-to-point and catch a ride home, or more committing … catch a to the start and run home. There is fresh energy waiting for you in the unknown–grab it and use it!
3. Go deep: Ponder and analyze your life, family, relationships, aspirations, fears and other juicy stuff we often only go deep in thought about when issues arise. Experiment with what happens when you go deep in thought by choice, not driven by worry. This may be somewhat stressful at times though, and perhaps you run to get away from “deep,” so you can also try Number 4 instead.
4. Stay shallow: Replay favorite movie scenes, think about your first crush or first anything and try to recall song lyrics. You can also practice language accents and jokes. Have some fun and run wildly (playful wild, not crazy wild) through a playground and zip down the slide. Humor is a powerful mental toughness tool–it helps break off the tendency we have to focus on our own suffering. You’ve unlocked some real power when you can laugh at your own suffering!
5. Be creative: Create a haiku, compose a song, or ponder a new idea for business or your other interests. Brainstorm for places you’d like to visit. Take a quick 30 seconds to draw something in the dirt, sand or snow. One of my favorites is to just sing out loud without a care in the world about what others think. Yes, there’s power in being that crazy runner!
6. Train your mind: Plan segments of your run as mind training exercises. This includes visualization practices and a host of cool mind tools you can experiment with, from color association to intentional emotions and dedications to important people in your life. I share lots of these in Chapters 11 and 12 of my book. Check out my Other People video for a tool you can test on your next run.
7. Get some work done: dictation, running meetings and calls. I often only meet with people if it’s during a run or hike. I’ve done conference calls mostly on mute during long runs. I’ve also dictated articles and book sections while running. It is not my favorite long-run activity, but it has proven an effective use of times during periods of high work and training pressure. While I’m happy to leave tech at home during runs, I find that some of my best creativity happens when running, so I’m often reaching for my phone to record ideas and reminders. This absolutely means it’s ok to run on company time — just tell your boss your coach said so! It is absolutely energizing to solve a problem while running, so tap into this energy.
8. Involve others: Get other people to join you for the whole run, or part of it, hopping in and out wherever they like. This works very well when you have friends at different levels who are willing to match your pace for a given duration. It usually works best to have support late in a long run, so invite a friend to run or bike alongside you during the last part, when fatigue is high and motivation tends to wane. It will give you something to look forward to early in the run as well!
9. Support others: make a mental list of friends and family members and think about ways you could offer some support. This is one of the most fulfilling and inspiring uses of time, and you may find yourself more creative and open to ideas when running long.
I hope you try some of these out and let me know what helps you. If you’ve found other helpful ideas for supporting your long training efforts, please share and I’ll pass it on.
I wish you the best in your training!
— Coach Jeff
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Coach’s Handbook. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.