Mental Struggles

The mental and meditative aspect of running has always fascinated me!

The way we deal with mental stressors and struggles during a tough trail run.... so I just wanted to ask everyone... What are the greatest mental struggles/thoughts you face during an ultra/ trail run?

Is it doubting yourself? What else is there? 



  • VDOT52VDOT52 ✭✭✭
    Have you seen the hills have eyes? Or deliverance?
  • Running through woodland, the ever-present fear is that of Dropbears, obviously.

  • Jelly babies!!! For ghodesses sake watch out for the jelly babies! What they can do to a lone runner.... *shudder* it's indescribable. 

  • Being able to finish anything over 50 miles is 90% mental.  It is honestly better to have a good mind-set, and cr4p athleticism, than vice versa.  Everybody has quit in them somewhere, and the human brain is very cunning at making it acceptable to you. 

    When I undertake a challenging event, I tell everybody that I am going to do it, and freely post the online tracking link.  It is a good incentive to know that your friends and family are watching you online. 

    I try to work out where the psychological low points of the race are going to be, and prepare myself for them. Examples are the half way mark, and indoor checkpoints.

    If I undertake an event like say UTMB, I never book accommodation for the nights when I should be on the trail, or make any other preparations for failure.  I literally put myself in a position, where the only way out is to finish the race. 

    My last psychological fall back, is “if you quit now, you are going to have to come back next year”.  Not the most inspiring, but it seems to work.  

  • Thanks for this post Ben, very useful ideas. 

  • Yes more like this please image this is for a project
  • VDOT52VDOT52 ✭✭✭
    Texas chainsaw massacre is a good one to think about.
  • I've been known to resort to singing old hymns!

  • Singing while running? Ha I do in my head
  • It's where my secret ambitions come to life !
  • But old hymns???!!! I seriously need some new material! Can't think how many years ago I last sang those!

  • Usually the fear of failure etc for me....

    But on a recent longun I'd slowed to an extent that I had a fear of missing the final train that would get me home in time to be at work the next day. Interestingly I found a bit of extra speed in the last few hours.

  • My take on struggle with the 100m (or runs that take as long as) trail run demons.

    Not saying I'll never fail again, but so far I've completed the TDS, which beat me before and the 125m+ Sandstone Way event.

  • thank you i'll take a look 

  • yeah i rock outwhen running

    and sometimes imagine if a tiger or dinosaur was nearby

    although really just focussing on the phrase keep going really helps, i do think giving up is habit forming and so just keeping going, but i am just trying to up the distance to my first marathon and finished 29k yesterday feeling daunted and unable to possibly manage 42k (which is not until March)

  • GeeeMGeeeM ✭✭✭

    When you know it's going to be a sufferfest early on, recently I did a 100-miler and was struggling in the first mile! It took 10 hours to turn that around - and I wanted to quit for every minute of that 10 hours!

    If it hadn't been for the fact I was in the USA and 6,000 miles from home I'd have gone back to bed.

    As it was - I just kept it simple, one aid station to the next - and then I told myself "well, what else are you going to do today/tomorrow"?

    It took 27.5 hours, but I finished image

    Mantras and counting work, if I can "switch off" and go into autopilot for a while that normally helps too!

    Oh - and smile, say hello to other runners and volunteers at Aid Stations - you'll be able to feed off their positive vibes. Likewise, get away from anyone who is being negative 

  • how do you switch off? and also what type of counting work do you do? image

  • GeeeMGeeeM ✭✭✭

    I can only "switch off" on non-technical, flattish terrain. It's just about being in the moment and focusing on something other than the effort/pain and how much further you have to go. Once that happens I'll zone-out a bit and start daydreaming, generally I need a trigger to initiate this - such as counting. When it happens it's great, I think people call it "Flow" - when everything just works smoothly and efficiently.

    Counting is as simple as counting on each footfall from 1 to a number and repeating, I'll never go much further than 10 before starting again. Paula Radcliffe famously uses the same technique. 

    Music doesn't work for me because it's not repetitive enough - a single song on loop might work, but I've never tried it.

  • yeah I have recently read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory, which has been really helpful.


    Thank you for all that info- I'm trying to map out/list all the mental struggles that can be encountered on a run. Aside from the various physical pains that can invade your thoughts!

  • PG3PG3 ✭✭✭

    I havent ever gone further than a marathon with running (yet Comrades next year) but i have done 2 ironman races.  The swim often consists of an episode of 'i could die in the water and no one would know until it was too late', the bike consists of trying not to get a puncture and then 'run' consists of trying to convince yourself that you are almost there as you only have a marathon to go.

  • GeeeMGeeeM ✭✭✭

    amylmw - are you talking about the mental struggles or the strategies to deal with them? Or - as I suspect a combination of the two! 

    The "mental struggle" is the problem - the coping strategy is a potential solution, they're different things.

    Mental Struggles might be:

    • I can't concentrate on this technical trail to be able to run it quickly
    • I've done 25 miles, (of a 100-miler) - I can't imagine doing this 3x again
    • I want to sleep
    • Why am I bothering with this? It's not important to me

    And Coping Strategies might be:

    • Slow down, walk a bit and eat food as you're glycogen depleted
    • Take it one step at a time, just aim on getting to the next Aid Station, top of the hill, tree 100 yards away
    • Have some caffeine / coke / coffee
    • Because I've paid £xxx for it, I don't want to let people down, if you finish then you can have a reward, (e.g. new TV)
  • Yes it is a combination of the two! Thank you all this info is a great resource- for projects I try not to just go off my own experiences!

    My work focuses around understanding the psychology of sport, specifically in urban environments. At the moment my research is looking at mental stressors in sports and how these can be offset by architectures. (just if you're interested) 


    this is great thank you

  •  You talk about switching off, which might be worth expanding upon.  Some people can more or less detach their thoughts from their physical discomfort, and some people can fly on instruments while very confused about their surroundings/situation. 

    The most demoralising thing in a race is thinking that you can’t finish it.  That is actually a lot more likely to break people, than being hurt physically, or being shot to pieces mentally.  

  • GeeeMGeeeM ✭✭✭

    r.e. Switching off.... I was at the gym this morning doing my normal 30-minute treadmill session after a weights workout and was very "switched-off" and daydreaming about random stuff when this thread popped into my head!

    That got me thinking... I've done quite a lot of boring, flat long distance running, e.g. 50k on a treadmill, a track marathon, flat-ish looped 24-hour events. I wonder if that sort of experience helps with the disassociation.

    I know a lot of people would say they'd rather swallow razor blades than run on a treadmill, or do a track marathon - but maybe the diversity and experience is worth it?

    Just a thought image

    And r.e. thinking you can't finish a race, that's actually a motivator for me! I like to push my boundaries a bit. My "feature races" take me out of my comfort zone into a place where I'm not sure if I've bitten off more than I can chew. It's almost exactly the opposite - if I go into a race "knowing" I can finish it, then complacency becomes apathy and that's a downward spiral when things get tough...

  • Yeah I think it's the repetition and banality of an experience that can induce this sort of flow state.. I guess that's the idea behind the Sri Chinmoy 3100 miler in Queens...

    does anyone else make up these kind of fictional situations when on a run? Sometimes I have arguments with people (that I know!) about things that haven't even happened! Like I'm living in an alternate reality...

  • lowrezlowrez ✭✭✭

    For me its feeling good in the first place that gets me into the flow state, not repetition or adversity. There is nothing like being on good form and running being really easy, under those conditions the surroundings don’t really matter, treadmill looking at a wall, seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. When running is easy and good, everything is good.

    In times of adversity though distractions, like those in Blade Runner, mantras, self-belief, sheer determination, crowd interaction are all methods to distract the mind and overcome pain. I have only ever given up completely on rare occasions where injury would obviously cause terrible consequences. I find music an incredible distraction and lift; I never run with it constantly plugged into my ears, but if you run into music, especially music you recognise, it can turn the worst malaise into a floating painless glide.

    Architecture? Do you mean “buildings” and not some other running stuff I don’t understand? I love bridges and tunnels; NY marathon has some superb examples, I have Detroit on my must do list (also run in two countries!). Last week I ran Kirkstall Trail Marathon, a mind boggling weave of intertwined bridges over and under railway line, major road, the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool canal...wonderfully distracting at times. 

  • I flipped about a year ago. Used to get a black downer re speed, distance to go, can I do it etc - but last year I switched - stopped trying to ignore the pain and started to focus on me, how every muscle felt, how I was moving and where I was - soaking everything in - went into I can feel the pain, isn't it great, isn't life great that I can actually do this ... and end up with a big smile. Actually burst out laughing  few times while running up some hills in the Lakes .. got some funny looks.

    Sure I read somewhere re the 2 strategies - one to take yourself away and zone out - whereas another is to take it all in and focus on the pain. Sounds crazy but the latter seems to have made a huge difference for me.


  • booktrunkbooktrunk ✭✭✭

    David that sounds interesting I can relate to that. I like that idea, think I'll have to read up on that a bit. 

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