Use These Clever Mental Tricks to Make Your Run Less Boring

Use These Clever Mental Tricks to Make Your Run Less Boring
Photo: Viktoria Gavrilina, Shutterstock

“The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.”

OK, well, that’s great for Haruki Murakami. For the rest of us, though, the thoughts that occur while running sound more like, “Alright, I’ve been going for about an hour now, oh wait, nope, it’s only been five minutes, OK, well, time for a walk break.” As much as I would love to be a meditative runner, sometimes it takes impressive mental gymnastics to get from one mile to the next.

But there’s no reason to let the mere prospect of boredom create a roadblock before you even lace up your shoes — if you need to distract yourself from the fact that you’re running, here are some mind games you can play to make time fly by a little faster.

Do some maths

Hear me out on this one. As much as I hate mental maths in most contexts, this trick works both as a way to pass time and as a motivational tool. You can busy your brain by converting miles to minutes, breaking down distance into smaller chunks, or maybe even turning time goals into episodes of TV. “I just have three miles left. That’s one mile, three times. I can do that. That’s about 30 minutes, which is only half of an episode of Succession, ok, only 29 minutes left…”

“Just to the next…”

…tree, road sign, or whatever checkpoint is in your line of vision. Once you reach that landmark, you can allow yourself to stop running. You might be surprised how often you find yourself running past one checkpoint to create the next.

Road trip games

The same games you used as a kid on long car rides are fantastic solo games to make runs fly by. Try any variation of an alphabet game, like spotting objects for every letter (A for attractive joggers, B for bridges, C for crazy drivers…you get the idea). Give yourself a scavenger hunt, create a backstory for every stranger you see–let your imagination do the running along with you.

Rehearse for something

You know those conversations and speeches you have in your bathroom mirror? Take them on the road. A lot of my runs are dedicated to workshopping and practicing standup comedy that I may or may not ever perform on stage. Similarly, my enemies will never realise just how many times I’ve destroyed them in conversation while on my long runs. Time flies when you’re delusional!

Make mental lists

There was a point in my life where I could recite all the names of every statue I passed on my running route (down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, for anyone curious). Try reciting all the U.S. presidents, French verb conjugations, some kind of sports stats — whatever keeps you occupied.

More tricks to make running “fun”

In addition to the brain games above, here are some more secrets to learning to like running:

  • Run with friends
  • Swap music for podcasts
  • Listen to new music
  • Explore a new running route
  • Throw in some Zombies

My final word of advice: No matter how far you’re going, the first mile is always the hardest mentally. Eventually, you’ll find your way to a place where you aren’t overly conscious of the immediate fact that you’re running. Take it slow, let your mind wander, and maybe you’ll even start to like running, too.

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