Running an ultra marathon is one of the biggest challenges a person can ever choose to face. It impacts your body intensely, both in training and while running. An even bigger aspect of training and preparing for an ultra is getting your mind ready. Being mentally tough enough to take on the race will determine whether the ultra makes or breaks you. Here are some ways to train your brain for running such a long distance.
Train Your Mind
First, make sure your training prepares you, not just for your muscles to take on the distance but for your mind to take it on. Some of this will come naturally. Long runs in hot or rainy weather, 4 a.m. alarms to start early runs and interval or hill training all go a long way in helping you develop mental toughness. Test yourself outside of running too. Hold a plank for 30 seconds longer than you had planned or do an extra rep when you're squatting. This will serve to remind you that you have what it takes.
And while you are running, and your brain is telling your body it wants to stop, keep pushing. Look at these moments that feel like a breaking point differently. Instead of thinking of them as your breaking point, think of them as your making point. These moments are where success happens and they’re where you grow mentally.
Having this type of determination and toughness to keep going when it’s the last thing you want to do takes grit. Grit is courage and resolve. It’s the strength of character it takes to push yourself a little bit harder. Grit is that little bit of something extra that keeps you going even when you feel panicked or like your body might want to stop.
To develop grit and become more mentally ready to take on races, you’ll have to do more than just train on the road. Do things like sleeping with the air conditioning off in your house in the middle of the summer. Also try practicing making important decisions while you’re tired or in a brain fog. Intentionally taking on these types of challenges will mimic what you'll face on race day and help you keep a clear mind as you’re running.
Also make your training harder. Try engaging in activities like wearing uncomfortable clothing. Even try wearing wet shoes and socks to start your run. When running with uncomfortable equipment or in wet shoes, pay attention to how your body feels. You're likely to experience these types of discomfort and pain on your run, so intentionally creating it and paying attention to how it makes you feel and how your mind responds, will be of great benefit on race day.
Train When You Don't Feel Like It
Even training on days when you simply don’t want to run will go a long way. Ultra marathoner or no, every runner knows there are days when you just don’t feel like hitting the pavement. Running anyway will show your brain that it’s acceptable to run at a time when you don’t feel like it and help prepare you for the ultra.
There are good runs and bad runs too. Some bad runs come on days when you expect good runs. Working through the discouragement and negative feelings that these runs bring will help you develop the mental wherewithal you need. Think about each mile of the run, why it was good or why it was bad. Even consider writing it down and comparing it to other runs.
Invest in Running Gear
Investing in a fitness tracker can also help here. Seeing how ready your body was to take on the run, how hard it worked and comparing that to how you felt can help you understand your runs and mentally prepare for the ultra marathon. It can also help you compare how you felt during one run to another. Knowledge is power, and having this knowledge about yourself will empower you as you train.
Not everyone has the mental wherewithal to be an ultra marathoner, and training your mind to take on long distance runs is an important part of the training process.