Long runs - do you "zone out"

I’ve got a marathon (my first) coming up in a couple of weeks, and was wondering if anyone had any good suggestions to occupy the mind. Some of the best runners I know have an ability to zone out’ when running – I’d love to be able to do this, but never quite manage!

Chatting to my running partner and listening to music help to some extent, but does anyone have any good ideas to help take the mind off the task in hand and therefore make the marathon a bit easier? Is this important?

Not sure if this is good or bad, but I find myself doing mental arithmetic the whole way round….calculating pace (despite having my Garmin watch!), percentage or proportion of the run remaining, projection to different length runs, etc etc. Just call me Rain Man…


  • I've no idea what I think about !
  • Ha, that's probably a good thing...maybe you zone out!

    What I don't want to think about is "am I tired, is my knee aching, I've got ages left to run, maybe should I have trained more" etc etc!

  • Paula Radcliffe used to count down from 100 for each step. And then repeat. I think it's because she knew how long her stride was so she would have an idea of how far she had travelled in 100 steps. Also, it helped take her mind off everything else.

    Personally, if I'm running au natural (i.e. without headphones and no company) I repeat 1-2-3-4 with the odd little inward shout of encouragement if things start to get tough.

  • My thoughts drift from one thing to another during my long runs, usually depending on what stage of the run I'm at:

    1) The first stage is spent checking my pace and HR with an OCD-like rigour, ensuring that I remain on target and in the right thresholds.

    2) The second stage (as I have usually left the road and ventured off onto trail) is spent enjoying the scenery and taking in the sights and sounds.

    3) The third stage I spend flitting between wondering what I'm going to have for tea when I get back, how much I'm going to enjoy that first pint when I get back home, what I've got on at work and what I need to do about it, and trying to work out if I've drunk enough water while I've been out.

    4) The fourth stage I spend occupying my mind with things such as trying to work the KM equivalent of how many miles I've run, what pace I need to run at in order to get back by a certain time or cover a certain distance within, say, three hours etc.  Trying to do mental arithmetic is actually quite a good way to pass the time and take your mind off pain/fatigue, no matter how banal what you're trying to calculate may be. I also start to get various aches and pains by this stage, so I'll spend time trying to self-diagnose/self-medicate.

    Failing all the above, I sing to myself.

  • JoolskaJoolska ✭✭✭

    In training, the counting to 100 thing does work quite well.  I also do mental maths, e.g. I'll calculate what fraction of the run I've completed.  I quite often have songs stuck in my head.  Rarely good songs, sadly.

    When racing, I have used the counting to 100 trick.  I also just generally force myself to think about form, stride rate, etc., to try and keep at race pace.

  • I do exactly the same thing with the mental arithmetic image Converting distance between miles and kilometres, percentage of the total distance completed, pace, percentage of different distance races... Totally pointless on the whole, but it keeps me amused image

  • I'd love to be able to "zone out" but usually can't.

    If I'm wound up about something and have that going round in my head it helps, although it's mot ideal.

    Other than that, like Paula, I count to 100 when the going gets a bit tough.

    If I've got to the stage above and the weather starts playing up as well (especially a strong wind in my face) there is often swearing image 

  • I sometimes count backwards in sevens from 500 (or some other large number).  I also do the percentages, etc.

    Sometimes I think about films or tv programmes, and pick holes in the plots.

    Once, I was so away with the fairies that went the wrong way, and when I 'came to', I wasn't sure where I was for a few seconds  image 

  • I have posted this before but towards end of hard runs, normally races, going up hill particularly, I run to the beat of f* - k*ng - h*ll, f* - k*ng - h*ll etc (the h*ll is not hill - although I suppose that would work as well).

    I also do most of the rest above from time to time.

    I find that first 3 miles seem to take forever and are generally spent thinking about various aches and pains, don't feel too good today (rarely the opposite) etc. Once those are out of the way then I do find myself zoning out and discovering I've run a few miles without noticing.

    The best way by far of not noticing how far you are running is to run with someone else who you can have a good natter with.

  • BikoBiko ✭✭✭

    I count each step and then start again at one once I reach a break in the pavement, or a change in surface.

    I also spend a decent amount of time (like others) pointlessly calculating my pace and working out when I'll finish. At a HM on Sunday I was trying to calculate at 18k what my final time was. I was so shattered I managaed to miscalculate my eventual final time by 9 minutes. Funny.

  • Pace maths for me also.

    Also spend a lot of time thinking about elevation. Am I know higher than when I started? have all the uphill bits done now? and so on. Utterly pointless questions that I never really find the answer to.

  • As a lapsed Catholic, I go back to doing the rosary quite mechanically and repeating the hail marys in my head; might only work for those of religious persuasion but I find it quite meditativeimage

  • I actually do zone out entirely at times, which usually means I have no recollection of where I've been or what I've passed. I did a 10k in Kew Gardens almost two weeks ago and simply can't recall running past the big glass house - but the pictures are there to prove it. It's quite big and we ran right next to it. I have little tricks to persuade my body there's not far to go: for a half marathon, say, if I've done the first mile, it's 'only 11 and a bit miles to go', even though it's actually 12. Or, 'only two miles to go to halfway'. Sounds like it shouldn't help, but it does...

  • I do something similar Peter - when there's (say) 5.9 miles to go, I think of it as just five miles, because it's less than six, it must be five image

  • I do the opposite, and try to persuade myself it's further than I think left to go so I'll be pleasantly surprised when it isn't! But that is only in races and hard tempo runs. I enjoy long slow runs and just potter around thinking about whatever I like.

  • I think about so many things when out on long runs, must of them I won't mention on here, I also talk or sing to myself sometimes whistle.

  • Mr BoatMr Boat ✭✭✭

    On medium long runs and long runs I'm usually progressively increasing the pace in blocks of 4 to 7 miles so I'm usually concentrating on not dropping below the pace increases. I do like to get in a groove though but I'm never zoned out because the next split is never far away. Feel a bit 'spaced out' towards the end of long runs and race sometime though.


  • A mix of a few things already mentioned here.

    Mental arithmatic - I'm going at X pace so what would this amount to at X distance?

    Singing (in my head) - repetitive, catchy, rhythmic football songs do it for me too.

    Counting - 1,2,3,4 over and over again.

    The other thing I try is word association - pick a subject/category and try and every road sign, place name etc try to name something associated with that category - for example, running past Queen's Road Peckham made me think of Gordon McQueen when thinking of footballers.

    Anything to get you beyond those moments when the weak voice in your head gets a bit too loud... 

  • I run 70% off road/trail. So concentrating on where my feet are landing is important. On road or trail, I think about my technique, breathing, keeping my pace or HR at my target and generally try to be as 'economical' with my running.

  • Some great ideas - I might try some word association. Actually, maybe "I Spy", if I can persuade my running partner to indulge me!

    Glad to hear that I'm not alone in my mental arithmetic too!

  • I listen to The Archers omnibus and desert island discs image


  • I listen to music and solve all the problems that have been worrying me since I last ran.

  • audio book or pod casts. nothing like getting into a good story to pass the time. x

  • I used to think about stuff that was going on in my life and generally just daydream away.  When it got tough I'd count (I read a tip in a magazine that on a hard bit of a run count like sky divers do - one one thousand, two one thousand etc etc up to 10) by the time you'd got to ten one thousand you were past the hard bit.  Also I used to have a mantra - I can, I will - was a favourite but my OH would use 'focus, strength, endurance' as his.

    When it got really tough my OH would ask me 'are you injured? Have you had your legs blown off?'  etc etc - really focuses the mind!

  • Get some dark techno / house and get rid of your running partner.. Avoid talking.. If find it toodistractive. Go solo and enjoy the 'silence'

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