What are some mind tricks to use while running to keep my mind occupied?
May 20, 2015 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I've been running and there is a certain level of boredom that creeps up. It's become a lot better as my endurance has increased but I am still looking for some strategies and mind-tricks to keep me engaged in running.

Recently, I've started reading Jeff Galloway's book expounding the importance of the Run and Walk method. One strategy he espouses is to count the number of steps your left or right leg (not BOTH!) take in a given a amount of time. The strategy is designed to help you measure and pace yourself over time. Nevertheless, I've used this strategy to keep my mind occupied and engaged with my running. It's a kind of weird mind-trick that's been pretty effective in getting me to direct myself during the running process and not focus on the fatigue.

Another trick I've used is to imagine there is a string that is pulling my legs up as I run in order to preserve a certain running form. Still I've also been using another strategy such as counting the number of steps I'm taking or imagining there is a wall I am running against and I have to keep myself running straight and in good form and posture.

Any tasks or counts or anything that would get me to fixate on something, a sort of trick of sorts to capture my attention and hold it fixated.
posted by RapcityinBlue to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have two techniques to focus my mind while I run, depending on whether or not I have headphones:

1. With headphones: listen to music and focus very heavily on the production. Identify where each of the instruments are situated in the left-right spectrum. Figure out which vocal parts are doubled. Try to identify how many separate guitar tracks are being played at any given time. And so on. Once you get used to doing this, you can really tie up big parts of your attention with it and distract them from exhaustion.

2. Without headphones: similar to one of the things you already mentioned, I have this weird counting game where I count upwards and downwards rhythmically with my footfalls (usually something like ONE-step-step-step TWO-step-step-step) from 1 to 100 and then back down to 1. Again, it kind of shuts down nonessential chunks of mind, and then you get a nice feeling when you end the cycle and your consciousness comes back fully online and you think "hey, I ran a bunch there."
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:49 AM on May 20, 2015

Here's an alternative suggestion. Set a goal to run all the streets in your town, similar to Ride SF. All of It. Then you can concentrate on following your cue sheet instructions.
posted by flicken at 7:55 AM on May 20, 2015

Sometimes I try to be all mindful and shit and just listen to the sound of my breathing and my feet slapping the pavement. Or, sometimes I imagine a rope attached to that stop sign or telephone pole down there that is pulling me inexorably toward it (repeat as necessary).
posted by scratch at 8:29 AM on May 20, 2015

I time my runs to a single album, picking one of a length that I want to run for. This has many benefits:
1) I listen to a lot of pop punk/punk rock: genres which often have short, up-beat songs with a strong four-beat tempo, perfect to pace my steps to.
2) Looking forward to a favourite song motivates me to keep going.
3) I can pay attention to the content of the song and feel the vibes, sing along- especially good when there's angry punk lyrics.
4) I can say to myself "Ok only two more songs to go" if I feel myself flagging.
5) Knowing I'm going to run to the end of the album for some reason is way more motivating for me than saying I'm going to run x kilometres or for 40 minutes or whatever.
6) If I listen to the same album on the same route it's kinda cool to notice "oh hey, I reached this track at an earlier point than last time, I'm going quicker!"

(I'm a very casual runner and don't track pace or distance or anything, so this works for me, but YMMV.)
posted by mymbleth at 8:44 AM on May 20, 2015

I never had much luck listening to music because inevitably I'd pace myself to the beat--thanks largo!--but what really worked for me was getting a portable metronome, example, with earphones. It was very easy to adjust the tempo on the fly too.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:06 AM on May 20, 2015

My main method of keeping my mind on something other than my tired legs is to listen to podcasts. Since running is my main opportunity to catch up on podcasts they serve as an additional motivator.

Another thing I find that helps is to really pay attention to your surroundings (especially if you can run through a natural area). I've had fun exploring the area I live in, running on back roads that I've never driven.
posted by dweingart at 9:07 AM on May 20, 2015

I listen to music or podcasts when I run. Music is fine, but I find that it can screw with my pacing, while podcasts do not, and provide a focus of interest for me. Another thing I've done is to do complex (or not so complex) math in my head. Sometimes I integrate or differentiate. Sometimes I just reduce fractions in order (1/2, 1/3, 2/3, 1/4, 2/4=1/2, etc).
posted by X-Himy at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2015

Softly focussing my eyes on a certain sweet spot about 4-6ft in front of me is particularly good for getting me into 'the zone' where my mind wanders off and takes care of itself.

Singing through an entire musical from start to finish works, too. I only know two musicals though so I save it for special occasions like long races!
posted by penguin pie at 9:27 AM on May 20, 2015

I'm not much of a runner, but I run in different places and take in the scenery a bit. I just map out new routes around my house and try to hit streets I haven't run on in a while. I don't stop and rarely slow down, but if I want to glance around to the left or right I go ahead and do it and take an interest in what's around me. I actually tend to PR while running a new route instead of an old route because I'm too busy taking in the new scenery to think about how tired and bored I am.
posted by Tehhund at 9:36 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Run on trails if you can. I'm fortunate enough to live in the mountains, and I never get bored running on trails. So much to see!
posted by Uncle Grumpy at 9:54 AM on May 20, 2015

If you are running along a city loop where there are lots of runners and walkers, keep a running count of the number of dogs you see. Bonus: dogs!
posted by matildaben at 10:03 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've found that podcasts work pretty well for me in the same way that they do on a long drive; paying attention to the content distracts me from the tedium of putting one foot in front of the other, or staring at the road.

I also like running to music but had the same problem others have mentioned about it sometimes being awkward with pace - my nerd solution was to use an app called Cadence Desktop Pro (Mac/iTunes, but there are other apps out there for various platforms too) to analyze the BPM of all my music, which then enabled me to create smart playlists of tracks that fall within a certain range compatible with the pace I was going for. (Jog.fm was helpful for figuring that out.)
posted by usonian at 10:07 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hate running with headphones so I don't have music to distract me. So I have two main distraction techniques:

1) Count dogs. Obviously, this only really works if you are running in a dog-heavy area. I run through the park and keeping my eyes peeled for dogs and the running tally in my head keeps me from thinking too much about running. On a really good summer day, I've counted almost 200 dogs during a 10k run. Bad day: 20.

2) The zombie game. This works if you're on a path with other runners. The ones ahead of you are humans, you are the zombie chasing them and you want their brains. But, you're a zombie, so you can't sprint, you must go your regular pace until you catch up with them. The runners behind you are zombies and you are the human they're trying to catch. You must stay ahead of them, ESPECIALLY if you already zombified them before. Every human you catch is +1 points. Every zombie that catches you is -1 point. If you are in the positive at the end, congratulations, you've survived the zombie apocalypse!
posted by Fuego at 1:01 PM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I write fanfic in my head.
posted by lakeroon at 5:46 PM on May 20, 2015

I play three dimensional tic tac toe against myself.
posted by bq at 8:27 PM on May 20, 2015

Best answer: You could try a series of complex breathing patterns based on your footsteps, which is what I do.

I use them mainly as 'gears' to regulate how much effort I'm putting into the run:

4 steps to breathe in / 4 steps to breathe out (warmup, longer runs)
4 out, 3 in
3 out, 3 in (cruising)
3 out, 3 in, 2 out, 3 in
3 out, 2 in
3 out, 2 in, 2 out, 2 in
2 out, 2 in (strong, probably about as far as I should go on a training run)
2 out, 2 in, 2 out, 1 in, 1 out, 2 in, 2 out, 2 in, 1 out, 1 in
1 out, 1 in, 2 out, 1 in, 1 out, 2 in
1 out, 1 in (if I can't see the finish line at this point I'm a dead man)

I'll sometimes try some other really difficult patterns on a long run, just for fun.

As I get further into a run I shift up gears. Going uphill I'll shift up 1 or 2 gears, going downhill I'll maintain my current gear so I don't overdo it.

It takes some concentration to maintain these patterns, especially the later ones. Which is important when your brain would otherwise be spending all its efforts thinking of reasons to stop. It becomes a kind of mantra.

If you think this is a strange habit, just be aware that every other runner I've ever told about this has looked at me like I am utterly insane.

So yes it is apparently strange. But it helps keep my mind occupied. Might do the same for you.
posted by fonetik at 2:40 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Run with somebody

Run on a trail and look at nature

Run in a park and add in obstacles - so you have to jump up onto each bench, or speed up between two particular trees, or do 10 pressups at the end of each loop.

Run an unfamiliar route where you have to keep looking out for directions - I plan new road routes out using Google maps, it isn't hard.

Do speedwork or hills or pyramids, or some other drill work. As an added bonus, because that's HIIT you generally only have to do 20-30mins of it.

Run home from work - the destination provides a lot of motivation

You can mix and match the above options throughout the week. For god's sake don't just run the same circuit three times a week - no wonder it feels like a boring chore.
posted by tinkletown at 2:47 AM on May 21, 2015

Best answer: Counting steps never helps for me; in fact, it kills my motivation. However, sometimes I find counting steps (both legs) and aligning it with my breath works (usually 3 exhale, 2 inhale, or 2 exhale, 2 inhale) to get me into a good mental zone. On preview; fonetik has given me some more advanced work to consider.

Breath in, think "I'm." Breath out, think "Fast." Other altenate breath out thoughts: strong, smart, running, etc. I enjoy cycling through them rather than repeating just one a bunch.

Do a full check in. First, I make sure that I'm smiling. Then I pay specific attention to my upper body and work my way down. Am I clenching my hands? If so, loosen up. Am I swinging my arms to far forward? Is my back straight? How to my hips feel? Am I getting enough hip extension Am I lifting my upper legs enough? How do my knees feel? How are my feet striking the ground? Is my right foot facing forward or am I getting sloppy and letting it drift out? Make sure that I'm still smiling. By the time that I finish mentally making sure my body is in a good state, and wearing that smile the next 1k usually flys by too fast.

The first two I used to do a lot, but currently my mind/body really enjoys running such that I'm paying a lot more attention to my dog and the scenary and don't feel any mental fatigue. I still try to do the mental check in every 3-4k.

I tried running with music (I tempo scaled all of my songs so they were either 90 or 180 bpm so it wouldn't mess with my cadence), but I found it more mentally tiring and I'd do sloppy things with my running form. Worse; currently my best/first clue that I'm doing something dumb is I'll hear my right shoe scuff the sidewalk/trail. Without headphones I don't hear it, and it will continue until it gets bad enough that I feel it.
posted by nobeagle at 7:48 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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