6 Mental Games to Keep Yourself Entertained During a Long Run

Because sometimes a killer playlist just isn’t enough.

The keys to a successful (and enjoyable) long run: adequate water, ample fuel, comfortable gear and a strong mental game.

Unfortunately, the final component is often the most elusive. So we asked around for for the tried-and-true mental tricks that keep you going when the going is tough (or just boring). The responses spanned from the practical to the imaginative to the endearingly bizarre. Here are our favourites.

Naming Dogs

How It Works: The rules for “What’s That Dog’s Name?” are simple: take stock of every canine you pass, and assign him/her a name based on breed or appearance. Erin, a runner whose long runs span anywhere between 14 and 28km, came up with the idea while training near off-leash dog parks and along a pooch-packed riverside pathway.

“It’s fun to do on your own, but it’s great to play with running buddies,” Erin explains. “Having a group of 10 runners all making up fake names for the Boston Terrier we just ran past is pretty funny!” On one occasion, someone in her running group started shouting at dog owners asking their dog’s name after the group had “guessed”.  “A couple of times the group let out an audible ‘ohhhhh!’ at the answer if someone was close,” she remembers. “I’m sure those dog owners (and anyone close to us) were mightily confused.”

Why It Works: “It’s a way to interject some light-hearted fun into long runs,” Erin notes. “Those types of long runs where you can laugh and have fun help the kilometres tick by. All of a sudden, you’re done!”

Counting Cars Made Before 1980

How It Works: The title is self-explanatory: tally up as many classic cars as possible throughout the course of your run. The idea comes from Eric, a San Francisco-based runner whose long runs usually notch between 12 and 16 kilometres. He got the idea from running several Disneyland Half Marathons. “The course includes a long stretch where people come out and show off their classic cars,” Eric explains. “I thought I’d start seeing how many older cars I could spot on a run, and it turned into a bit of a game.”

Why It Works: “I stay very aware of my surroundings when I’m on the road,” says Eric. “Looking out for as many older cars as I can find helps me keep my brain turned on and my eye focused on everything happening all around me.”

Translating Conversations Into Other Languages

How It Works: Take a conversation – any conversation – from your day, and attempt to translate it into another tongue. Casey, who works for a mobile phone company, began using her long runs as an opportunity to brush up on her Spanish, as she frequently fielded work calls from non-native English speakers. While running, she’d replay the conversations in her head and do her best to perfect the Spanish translation. “If I came across a word that I couldn’t translate, I’d try to remember it, then look it up once I was done,” she explains.

Why It Works: “It’s challenging, engaging, and requires me to focus, which forces me to stop focusing on aspects of my run that might seem daunting, like how many KMs I have left, or how hard running up hill into the wind is,” says Casey.

Solving Long Division Problems

How It Works: Create a maths problem – say, 624 divided by 12 – and work through it in your head. Casey took up this trick while using a running app. She wanted to know her speed in KMs per hour (the app announces speed as an average pace of minutes per KM), so she started tackling those calculations mid-run. They didn’t take up much time, though, so she started creating more complex problems for herself. The tactic proved especially useful during her second half-marathon, a drizzly, cold event. “After the first miserable few kilometres, I started working on long division to distract myself from the rain and the cold,” remembers Casey. “I ended up finishing 23 minutes faster than my first half-marathon, which I’d run six weeks earlier.”

Why It Works: “In addition to being challenging and engaging my brain on something other than what I’m physically feeling, I visualise the problem as if I’m solving it on paper, which can be particularly useful if I’m on a long run in bad weather, where the scenery is boring, or on the treadmill,” says Casey.

Daydreaming About Owning a Goat Farm

How It Works: Gabby, a runner and farm animal lover, spends the majority of her runs mapping out the logistics for the goat rescue farm she one day hopes to own. “Many a kilometre has gone by while I try to figure out what breeds of goats will I have,” she explains. “What will I name them? Will I be able to train them to come into the house without eating everything? Could I train them to eat my boyfriend’s hats when I’m mad at him but am too lazy to argue?”

Why It Works: “My goats have helped me get through injuries, mental blocks, hills, and just ‘I really don’t feel like running’ runs,” says Gabby, adding “all this and I haven’t even gotten a real one yet. I wonder if you can train a goat to run with you? I’ll think about this on my next run!”

Counting Rhythms

How It Works: When the goats aren’t enough, and she’s feeling especially fatigued or simply cannot find a rhythm, Gabby counts from one to eight over and over again. Why eight? “I have no clue why, but I find it comforting,” she explains. The count coincides with her breathing, rather than her stride.

Why It Works: “It helps me stay on pace, and if I do it long enough it always develops into a constant cadence,” says Gabby.

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