Seven Ways to Keep Your Mind Busy on a Run

Run­ners plod through those long, gru­el­ing miles not just to whip their bod­ies into prime shape, but also to build up men­tal strength. Going the dis­tance requires seri­ous brain­pow­er, and it’s often the mind that wants to quit first. But for most run­ners, quit­ting isn’t an option. Some­times to stay focused, you need to dis­tract your­self. Here are 7 ways to busy your brain on that nev­er-end­ing run.

These days, it’s a rare thing to be alone with your thoughts: no beep­ing phones, no files pil­ing up on your desk­top, and no kids tug­ging at your sleeve. Seize the silence by tak­ing the time to think through some chal­lenges you’re fac­ing, whether it’s work-relat­ed dra­ma or obsta­cles in rela­tion­ships. You’ll come out of it with a clear­er head—and you’ll bare­ly notice the miles as they pass.

Music while run­ning is a per­son­al choice, but even those who opt to go sans-iPod can stay dis­tract­ed with song. Run some favorite song lyrics through your head to give your­self some­thing to focus on—something that doesn’t have to do with how exhaust­ed your legs are.

I have a the­o­ry that the runner’s high is just what you expe­ri­ence when you med­i­tate on a run.

Start by fix­ing your eyes on some­thing up ahead in the dis­tance, slight­ly up, like a tree, a cloud, or a moun­tain. Keep a soft focus on that thing—the same kind of focus you’d keep if you were star­ing at one of those Mag­ic Eye puzzles—and let every­thing else float away. If your mind starts to wan­der, bring it back to the thing you’re look­ing at. You feel light. You feel peace­ful. Guess what—you’re meditating!

Take It All In
Snap out of autopi­lot by play­ing close atten­tion to your sur­round­ings. Notice smells and sounds. Crunch leaves on the ground, or dodge a slug cross­ing the path. Smile at the peo­ple you pass by, then imag­ine their life sto­ries in your head.

Be Your Own Cheerleader
Hav­ing a cheer squad or a sup­port­ive coach can be incred­i­bly help­ful when tack­ling that major hill or those tax­ing last few miles. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, out­side sup­port isn’t always avail­able on train­ing runs. For­tu­nate­ly, you can learn to be your own coach.

Your inner dia­logue might sound some­thing like this: “You can do this. You’re doing it! All you have to do is put one step in front of the oth­er. Just like you’re doing. See? You’re already far­ther along than when I start­ed this sen­tence. You only have to make it to that tree, and then you can reassess things. Oh look, you’re already past that tree, and you’re still going—and you look great! Don’t stop now, not when you’re doing this well!” Don’t worry—no one can hear how ridicu­lous you sound inside your head. And it real­ly works.

Write Your Novel
A wed­ding speech. An e‑mail to a friend. Your auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Start mak­ing a men­tal draft of some­thing you might hypo­thet­i­cal­ly need to write or say one day. Think­ing of the peo­ple, the places, and the mem­o­ries will keep your mind total­ly and utter­ly dis­tract­ed from what you’re actu­al­ly doing.

Take those moments of men­tal rest­less­ness to reassess your form. Fix slumped shoul­ders. Check your breath­ing. Notice if you’re putting any weird stress on your hips or your knees. A phys­i­cal check-in might give you that extra burst of ener­gy that you crave.