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The Long Distance Mindset

For around two millions years, humans have been running. While the reasons may have changed—we are no longer really chasing our food or delivering messages—the mental toughness to keep us moving has not. With thousands of runners achieving their top shape, and gearing up on both coasts for the run of their lives, we were curious about what it takes mentally to complete a marathon. We reached out to a few our favorite coaches and athletes for some tips to help runners power through a long distance run.

It’s said that getting started is always the tough part, but how do you convince yourself to keep going and finish?

Francisco Balagtas, (@iamfranciscob), New York

What does it really mean to “go the distance”? Is it to carry ourselves past the point we seem possible, to get the impossible? To establish the long distance mindset is to challenge yourself to accept the fact that you are going to subject yourself to a situation that will inevitably place you past the physiological threshold of the average human.

Something I tell some of the runners I coach, especially first time marathoners, is that distance running (critically the marathon & longer) is a learned experience. The more you do it, regardless of how well or how poor, is all accumulated experience and knowledge which feeds back building that mindset.

The notion to keep going and to finish is constructed by different elements, both physical and mental. The distance mindset is an investment made by your mind and body. The commitment of regular subjection to longer effort, more miles, and varying degrees of workout compose the physical aspect.

The mental build is composed of goal setting, time perception, patience, and the vision to see yourself in the long term. Essentially, you have to visualize yourself actually doing what you want to achieve, if you want to firmly believe that you can accomplish it.

Sometimes my inspiration and goals for running have manifested themselves from my dreams. I’d be thinking about something I wanted to accomplish, but knowing full well it was “out of my wheelhouse”. I’d be thinking about so much it eventually injects itself into my dreams, and I dream/visualize the situation of accomplishment or the process itself. If my brain allows me to see myself doing something in this dream state, that means it will allow me to mentally create it in the real physical state.

Thai Richards, (daddy_shango), New York

Similar to an ice bath, you ease your self into your own peace or chaos during long runs. Once you learn to control your breath and will power, running is half the battle.

There are moments in life that will need my endurance more than any run, there will be more days and years to come that will need more from me than any race, get it done for your present and future self.

Thom Lessner, (@thomlessner), Philadelphia

I love the idea/mantra, ‘I will feel different’ , anytime I’m really struggling. Meaning when my body’s really trying to convince my brain to turn to comfort & slow down or stop, just try and accept the present moment hurts or sucks but it’s just a feeling and I’ll have good feelings coming eventually as well. Or if not good at least less painful or sucky ones. I’ll remind myself that then just focus on getting to the next aid station or mile or tree or whatever. And if it’s really bad I’ll tell my self to literally smile and that always helps gain perspective how lucky I am to just be able to go run around.

Jerry Francois, (@kingparkergold2001), New York

Find your bigger purpose. Find out your why and do it for that reason!!

Will Temple (@geddestemple), New York

Oh man, for sure getting started can be complicated. I feel like the hard part at the start is being confident that you’ve put the work in to get there and if you’ve put in the work, you have to trust that your body will hold up for the beating you’re about to give it. Once that start gun goes off though… it’s all spit and adrenaline.

In my experience my body is pretty cooperative for the first 3/4 of the race and that’s been the case from 800m to 60k. For me that last quarter becomes this weird mental gymnastics of Buddhist “keep going”s and masochistically yelling at my legs to get it together usually verbalized as “YOU WORK FOR ME AND WE HAVE A *string of expletives* RACE TO FINISH!!”. Of course this really does nothing for my legs but it’s a good reminder of why I’m there and what I am hoping to accomplish.

Most importantly running has become this meditative exercise in gratitude for my health, time and community that I’ve been so lucky to find. Every run is a gift.

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