The Mental Side of Running Distance

The Mental Side of Long-Distance Running

We often make the mistake of only seeing distance running as a Physical endeavour.  We do not address the other aspects of plodding down the trails, roads or tracks.  What do we do with our mind while we run?  Do we think about our day, life, fears, aches and pains?  Or do we blast the latest pop track or motivational speech on our devices?

A Guide for Newbies in Long-Distance Exercise

I am writing this article for newbies to distance running or any steady-state duration exercise (biking, swimming laps, walking, etc.  Experienced runners, as well as those who incorporate strength training, know how to deal with their minds while they run.  They have enough practice and have been through the drill enough times to know what to expect.  But for someone who has not yet run a 5k, 10k, or even a mile. It can be intimidating and scary to think about how hard it will be.  We, as humans, tend to extrapolate things in our minds.

From Doubt to Triumph

We think: gee, it was hard walking up those 10 stairs, I’m winded, imagine how hard it would be to walk up 20 stairs. It must be twice as hard.  We think wow, I ran one lap around the track, and it wasn’t perfect; I can’t imagine running 4 laps!  I understand that thinking; I once was that way myself.  But I will show you the science to help combat that thinking and to get you on your way to covering more distance than you ever thought possible. 

Exploring the Origins of Human Endurance

We, as humans, are VERY good at being aerobic endurance athletes.  This has come about from thousands of years of evolving as hunter-gatherers and needing to cover long distances.  The original hunting strategy was to “chase” a deer over long distances until it was too tired to run away.  The deer would bolt compellingly and fast, but eventually, it has to stop and regenerate energy.

The Legacy of Human Pursuit

Humans can keep moving at a constant and steady pace.   Eventually, the stable, consistent pace is enough to close the gap on the quicker deer since it needs an extended amount of time to recover.  The remote areas of Africa that are still hunter-gatherer societies are using these tactics. In case you are curious, below is a video that details the evolution of endurance exercise in humans.

Unleashing Human Potential: The Science of Prolonged Performance

The average human has more slow-twitch (oxidative) muscle fibres than fast-twitch (anaerobic) ones.  These slow twitch fibres are much easier to train and develop than fast twitch fibres.  In addition to muscle fibres, our bodies have a lot of machinery to help transport oxygen, bind oxygen, and use oxygen to create ATP (energy) for our muscles to use during activity.  Simply put, we are very good at covering long distances at a steady, constant pace (sounds a lot like distance running).  

My Advice

Resist the idea to extrapolate how hard a long-distance run will be.  So, when starting on your next considerable distance run, please don’t be nervous about how much harder it will be than your previous run. Take a moment to think about this graph.  This shows us that the initial start to a run or any activity is the hardest.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Our body ramps oxygen consumption, and we think, “Wow, I’m already tired; there is no way I can last the whole distance.”  But in reality, once we reach our steady state (around 2 minutes of activity) and find our pace, we can maintain that for a very long time.  As you build more experience and your conditioning levels improve, you can keep a faster pace for a steady state.    Use this science to fill your mind during those long runs, and always remember, “work smarter, not harder.”


“It never gets easier. You go faster. The experience of the first run is the same experience you feel on the 500th run. You still feel the same pain, exhaustion, etc. You just are going faster by the 500th.