The Mental Game of Running: How to Stay Focused

We have all been there. You are in the middle of your run and it feels like your feet are cased in cement, your heart is racing at 100 beats a second, and you think “why am I even running right now?”

It’s for times like these and any other time in between that we need to step up our mental game and stay focused.

The old-time saying is that running is “90% mental and 10% physical.”

If this is true, then why do we spent so much time working on the 10% when we could be working on the 90%?

That is why I am here as a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach and RRCA Certified Running Coach to teach you my tricks and cheats to increasing your mental game while running, stay focused, and most importantly enjoying the run!

Whether you are an avid runner or just beginning this is for you! 

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Mental Fatigue Vs. Physical Fatigue

At different points in our run we all hit this immovable force that has tormented every person who has tried their feet at running.

This mystical, but real force is known as “the wall.”

Runners from all walks of life, always talk about how it is so hard to break through the wall and continue to fight. Many say that it is the hardest part of any run.

Well, it’s time to buckle up, because I am going to tell you how to break through that wall and leave it in a million pieces behind you!

The first step is to understand the difference between mental fatigue and physical fatigue.

When you hit the wall during your run it is usually because one or both of these areas are feeling worn out. 

Mental fatigue can be caused by a lack of focus, poor nights rest, or lack of balance in life. Symptoms include lack of motivation, judgement, alertness, and drive.

On the other hand, Physical fatigue can be caused when your muscles are physically exhausted due to an increase in the output of energy. Symptoms include muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and slow movements.

The Mental Walk Through

When you hit the wall, take time to think and go through this mental walk through. 

  1. Am I experiencing mental or physical fatigue right now?
  2. If it is physical fatigue, is it caused by muscle soreness or joint pain? If it is muscle soreness continue pushing through, but if it is joint pain take it down a notch or even stop your run. You do not want to hurt yourself.
  3. With both types of fatigue take a mental journey through the rest of your run. Think of short-term goals like trying to make it through the next bend in the road, conquer the hill in front of you, or even just running for 5 more minutes.
  4. Try breaking up the rest of your time running into short increments to celebrate the little victories.
  5. Most importantly know that walls are only temporary! You will get through them just keep pushing!

After you smash through the wall and finish your run, take time later in the day to think about this walkthrough and make plans to overcome the different kinds of fatigue.

For example, if you experienced physical fatigue you should look at your nutrition. It plays a key role in muscle recovery and strength. Try IdealLean Electrolytes for fuel during the run and take some IdealLean Protein post-workout to recover quickly!

Coach Kristi Resting After Run to Keep Mental Game Strong

Make It Fun!

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about running?

Is it being out of breath, sweat pouring down your face, and long grueling workouts?

If this is what you think of then it is time to change your mindset! Let’s make running something that you look forward to with a smile rather than sheer panic.

Trust me, I have ran thousands of miles and have had plenty of time to think and study how to make running more enjoyable or else I would have stopped a long time ago 😉

One of the easiest ways to put a smile on your face when you are running is to play some running games!

This will help keep your mind occupied and happy while the time flies by.

My favorite game to play is called the object game. Before you go on your run, pick one or two different objects you are going to look for. If you are running around your neighborhood you could look for a blue shirt and the number 5. While running continually look for both those objects and count them!

Really simple, but it works! It keeps your mind sharp and actually looking for something rather than thinking about how sore your muscles are or how much you want to be done.

Coach Kristi

Pace Yourself

Keeping pace is your way of controlling your run and making it the most effective.  

When you are running at a consistent speed for a long distance it gives your body a rhythm that it can keep up with.

Think of it as dancing. You need to be able to move your body to a certain beat so everything looks smooth and beautiful. 

The same idea applies to running. When you are on pace (or on beat) you are able to run farther and keep your mental game in check.

Before your run set goals and make plans to keep at a certain pace that will push you, but something that you can achieve.


Visualization can help calm your body and give you confidence that you will conquer however many steps or miles lay ahead of you.  

You can practice visualization in a couple different ways.

1. Mentally run through the course before you physically run it

Take time to close your eyes and imagine yourself jogging around every corner, through hills, and taking on every obstacle. Research shows that this technique can have a direct and positive impact on performance.

2. Think positive

When you are out running it is very easy to think of the negative. How tired you are, how hard the run is, and how much you want it to be over with.

When you change your mindset to think of every positive part of the run or about your life, it will naturally fuel you to go the extra mile!

Woman running near a cool mural

Remembering the Why

To keep your mental game strong and focused you need to be happy with what you have already done! 🙂

We often get stuck on the miles in front of us instead of appreciating what we have already accomplished.

The fact that we are getting our booties off the couch should be celebrated!

While you are running you can stay focused by remembering your “why.”

Why you are running.

Why you want to lose weight and get toned.

Whatever your “why” is always keep it at the forefront of your mind. This will give you the motivation to stay focused and power through your workout!

Stay Focused By Treating Your Body Right

In order to stay focused you need to be able to give your body and your mind what it needs.

Proper nutrition while training is essential to helping you run farther and longer. 

While you are running you are tearing apart your muscles and they need the right nutrition to recover stronger and leaner. That is why before and after any run I always fuel myself with IdealFit products! I use my IdealLean Protein post-workout to recover from my workout and provide my body with the protein necessary to burn fat and get lean. 

Amy Posey

Amy Posey

Writer and expert

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