Distance runners all think about three main things, especially how much their body hates logging miles, says a new study
Any runner will agree their morning miles are a time to get lost in thought. But what are most of us actually thinking about as we pound the pavement? Science says we aren’t actually using those long runs to take a deep dive into the problems and ideas that fall by the wayside during our busy lives. Instead, after seven miles, we’re mostly just thinking about how we can survive the rest of this run.
In a new study published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, researchers had runners verbalize their thoughts during long training days and found that most runners stay in the moment as they’re moving along. The majority spent some of their time thinking about the environment around them as well as their pace and distance. But most of the runners also spent a good amount of time thinking about how damn uncomfortable running for over an hour can be.
The study participants vocalized a lot of thoughts we can sympathize with: “Oh my God, I'm so tired. My stomach hurts so bad! Deep breath … I'm going to throw up right now.” “My hips are little tight. I'm stiff, my feet, my ankles, just killing me this morning.” “Hill, you're a bitch.” And of course, the inescapable thought of every female runner: “Ugh, I feel like shit. Why did my period have to come now?” (Add them to our list of 20 Thoughts You Have On a Long Run.)
And no one is immune to these petty thoughts—even elite athletes spend most of their time thinking about their pace, how much of the run they have left, and how their body feels. “I always do mental checks on my form and feel,” says professional triathlete and 2014 Ironman World Championship winner Mirinda Carfrae, who ran a record-setting 2:50:27 marathon. “I try to think positive when I’m tired, knowing that I am tapping into the next level. But my mind also wanders and of course I’ll jump into thinking what is my next meal, what’s for dinner, how I’m feeling.”
The key for Carfrae, though, is also thinking about the race she’s training for and how logging these miles will help her on that important day. “What gets me out on the road each day is my competition, so of course that permeates my thoughts during the longer sessions,” she says.
The study also looked at what runners did to push through the pain or what they altered when their pace was sub-par. The most utilized strategies for improvement mid-run were positive self-talk, focusing on their form, visualization, and counting to maintain pace (literally “1, 2, 3, 4”).
Carfrae says she trains with music to help keep her head in the right space and be able to zone into these specific-but-beneficial thoughts. (You can also try these 8 Ways to Override the Urge to Quit.) Whatever strategy you want to use to make it through your training runs, all that matter is that it works for you. Just be glad no one is recording your most embarrassing thoughts in those final miles.