Determining how to get better at running distance can seem puzzling. In fact, this thought eventually arises in the minds of many new and seasoned runners alike. Sometimes it can feel like it will never happen.
Should I run more or less?
Is cross-training a good idea?
How much should my mileage progress weekly?
What about pace?
And what is an effective nutrition strategy?
I know, there are many uncertainties when learning how to get better at running distance.
And although increasing endurance seems like a strict practice, it can actually be quite flexible.
In other words, your training doesn’t have to be insanely accurate. You just have to be insanely ambitious.
Likewise, we can focus far too heavily on the how-to guides and expert advice. However, this comprehensive search outwardly tends to drastically reduce our focus inwardly. In the meantime, we lose focus on what matters most: our own journey.
Of course, you should learn from others on how to get better at running distance. This significantly reduces the time required to reach your goals. Sometimes even from years to months.
Yet, at the same time, it is my belief that you should always adapt what you learn to yourself. Meaning, make any running program or strategy your own.
We are all very much the same, yet paradoxically, all very much different. It is through the particularities where our endurance transcends limitations.
We are different grapes on the same vine. Unique plants from the same soil. In other words, we all run differently, but we are all still human.
Learning how to get better at running distance is both a science and an art, and it’s essential to work at both.
So, if you align with these beliefs, please continue reading. I will now offer 8 small mental shifts that will make a big difference in your running journey.
You will soon discover new paradigms that help eliminate limitations on the inside, so you can run longer differences on the outside.
Because that is what’s truly between you and the finish line, that is, the thoughts, beliefs, and stories that are blocking you from reaching your greatness.
Simply put, the only obstacle between you and the finish line is, well… you.
Please note: I am not a certified health physician and do not claim to be one. I’m only sharing the methods that worked for me. Remember, sometimes when you push the limits, the limits push back. So proceed with caution and never forget that safety comes first.
1. From Mountains to Movement
Any time you face the challenge of running a longer distance, you’ll likely second guess yourself. It is common to doubt your abilities.
I was completely uncertain when attempting to run both my first marathon and ultramarathon.
As human beings, we need certainty to reduce stress. Yet the irony is that life is entirely uncertain. All we can truly do is reduce the level of risk we take.
The key is to have faith in the unknown.
Understand this: the physical course isn’t nearly as challenging to overcome as the mountains in your mind.
Reduce the internal resistance—as you will learn from these minor shifts—and the external resistance becomes much more manageable on race day.
2. From Future to Present
So, you may be thinking, “Okay, eliminate the internal resistance, I get it, but how?”
Well, first understand what causes the mountains in your mind. You see, when you focus on the uncertain nature of a challenge long enough, you feel a lack of control. This lack of control ultimately creates suffering.
A mind stuck in the future—like the finish line—creates an enormous amount of suffering. The longer the race, the deeper the grave you dig.
Remember this: the thought of crossing the finish line while racing can create motivation. However, obsessing over it can create anxiety.
Likewise, fixating on the past can become problematic also.
Consider if you didn’t finish a race in the past or came up short on a goal that was very close to your heart.
The memory of your shortcoming can inspire you to finish your next race. However, obsessing over it can create depression, sorrow, and despair.
When you detach from your thoughts, they can become empowering. You now have the power to leverage the past and future as motivation, instead of suffering from it. By doing so, you are no longer fixated over your past downfalls or potential future successes.
By focusing on each step, you are able to let go of your thoughts and find the present moment.
Here’s the benefit…
When you run in the present moment, the finish line vanishes and time becomes an illusion. Now every mile is the same mile, and you can run extraordinary distances!
Also, understand that visualizing crossing the finish line and obsessing over it are different. The practice of visualization can create success. The habit of clinging to thoughts can create suffering. Visualize the finish line in training, but forget it on race day.
During my last 100-mile ultramarathon I formed these words: Running naked into the present moment, I’m neither above nor below the mind. Yesterday feels like a decade away as I lose myself into the boundless space of infinity, free-falling into the journey of 100 miles.
Try this: First, open up the mind and heart. Next, let go of fear, anger, and guilt. Now you’ve found the present moment. Now you can finish any race you begin.
3. From Running to Moving
It was a typical day, unlike any other. My wife and I climbed out of the car and placed my two-year-old son down onto the driveway.
However, on this day, instead of walking into the house, our son gave us an unusual look, and then… took off running!
I saw it in his eyes. Something called him to a journey, that is, an inner calling for adventure.
Being an encouraging yet cautious parent, I allowed him to run down the sidewalk as I trailed behind him. He was barefoot. No running shoes for this kid.
After a few yards down the walk, he stopped and saw the long open road ahead of him. He then looked back at me in hesitation, beginning to second guess himself.
I said, “Keep going big boy! You got this!”
That’s all that he needed, an approval from Daddy, and off he went!
My son was committed. I saw the confidence in his stride and the freedom in his smile.
Halfway through, we could no longer see our house. At this point, there was no turning back. He was headed straight for the end of the road, a half-mile away.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve never witnessed a two-year-old run so far. Yet to him, it wasn’t “running,” it was a reaction to an inner calling, and movement was the most basic expression of that.
Everything was going well until he met his worthy opponent. That is, the long hill at the center. It was super steep. I wasn’t sure if he could make it.
Amazingly, he adjusted his stride to smaller steps, like a bike switching to a higher gear. His body knew what to do instinctually. He didn’t worry about mastering some new method or technique as most beginner runners do.
Instead, it was a pure and natural stride from the adjustment made based on his bodily senses.
Eventually, he reached the top of the hill and to the end of the road. We celebrated and danced around—a half-mile run for a two-year-old boy—what an amazing feat.
As we made our way back home, his feet were scraped, but his heart was joyous.
I know, someone at his age can only comprehend so much, but from his eternal soul, what transpired was transcendent.
You see, for my son, there was no finish line. He felt it within him to run, based on his intuition. And because of it…did something, I think, extraordinarily remarkable for a toddler.
In the same way, just the other day I went out and ran out-and-backs in a nearby field with my two sons, who are now a few years older. Five and four, to be exact.
I witnessed them moving forward without expectations, finish lines, or reacting to the stresses of life. We learn through our kids how endurance can grow proportional to our love for moving. I went out to coach them…and they ended up coaching me…
What a gift.
It’s easy to get hung up with the identity of a runner. You want to become a “marathon runner.” Or you want to become an “ultramarathon runner.” And along with these identities come the terminology, gear, programs, races, and supplements.
And although there’s nothing wrong with diving headfirst into the running scene, it’s important not to let the institutional rules and expectancies dictate your experience.
Because here’s the secret…
When you shift from a runner to simply a person who runs, you lose the attachment. You lose the identity and the unnecessary pressures that often weigh you down.
As I like to say: Show up to race day with a full heart, empty of expectations and identification. Leave the starting line with an urgent longing for finding freedom, and allow the finish line to be your liberation.
You are a human being that moves. Running can be that simple.
You don’t have to be fast…
You don’t have to be first…
You don’t have to be young…
You don’t have to be an expert…
The only requirement is placing one foot in front of the other. The moment you understand this concept is the same moment your feet will feel much lighter.
This is what happens when you make the subtle shift from running to moving. Remember, you have to let go in order to fly high!
4. From Compulsion to Lifestyle
Becoming a seasoned long-distance runner and mastering self-discipline go hand-in-hand. It’s a very rare occasion you miss a training run. And if you do, as long as you can stay positive, you’ll come back stronger than ever.
During training, consistency is key, and dedication empowers a diligent effort.
Although these characteristics are essential for distance runners, one must stay alert. That is, don’t allow consistency and dedication to transform into addiction and compulsion.
Here’s the thing. Although we technically choose to run, if our healthy lifestyle turns into compulsive behavior, we completely lose that freedom.
That is, if we are consciously aware of a higher importance—whether that be an injury that needs recovery or a family engagement demanding time—and run anyway, this may be a clue that you’re dealing with a compulsion that hurts rather than a practice that helps.
As someone who has ran ultra distances up to and longer than 200 miles, I’ve flirted with this thin line. My obsession of finishing what I start can be a superpower. But if left unchecked, it becomes nothing more than an inefficient addictive behavior.
By recognizing this, I’ve found peace in altering my training programs. Eventually, I discovered making last-minute changes hardly affects my progress. In fact, it led me to create extremely effective programs that I have offered in many of my books.
This new awareness has assisted me in discovering the sweet spot between training and recovery. That is, excessive training that causes injury and burnout versus insufficient training that causes digression in stamina.
In this case, training is no longer an attachment. Because of this, you’re relieved of the heavy burden of expectation. This leaves you with much less internal resistance, making the external resistance more manageable.
When you do not act compulsively, running is a lifestyle rather than a task.
Remember, movement is part of the human experience. Allow running to naturally blend into your life experience and watch incredible endurance and strength be a reciprocal of that.
5. From Fixed to Growth
Our current circumstances do not dictate our future reality. Whether you are athletic or not, you can grow into a distance runner over time.
In the same way, no matter your current level of stamina, you can always run longer…
Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.
It’s never too late to learn how to get better at running distance.
Here’s the problem. Sometimes we fall into a limited mindset. It can happen to anyone. The thought process is believing whatever we have or are, well..we have or are. In other words, we see things as static rather than dynamic. But here’s the thing…
The world is relational. It’s dynamic. It’s far from fixed.
Consider how adaptation is one of the greatest strengths of the human-animal. When you stress your body, you grow back stronger. This way, you can meet new demands. That’s survival.
In the same way, we can continue to learn and grow throughout our lives.
This is not only a possibility, it’s biology. It’s neuroscience.
Consider how neuroplasticity demonstrates the way the brain rewrites itself. The great news: you have the power to draw a new internal roadmap.
You can train your brain to understand the truth that anyone can run any distance. And of course…that includes you!
Our physicality and intelligence have the potential to develop further, no matter our age. This belief is at the core of a long-distance running mindset.
That’s opposed to a mindset where you believe what you have is all you have.
Did you know experts once believed that as we increased in age, the connections in our brain became fixed?
That’s before neuroscientists discovered that our brain is much more malleable than we could have ever imagined. In fact, brain plasticity shows how we develop different connections when attempting something new. Furthermore, with enough repetition, these new connections strengthen.
Even as adults, our intelligence can increase just like our endurance.
So don’t think for a minute you can’t change your mindset for learning how to get better at running distance…because you can.
What’s the secret?
The answer: REPETITION
Yes, repetition is what strengthens the mind.
Remember when you learned to drive a car or ride a bike? At first, it took time to develop the skills. Then after constant repetition, it became second nature.
That’s the same with running a longer distance. Running a marathon may seem light-years away. But after practice, and reaching 15-20 miles, suddenly, a marathon doesn’t seem long at all.
Your mental stamina grows simultaneously with your physical stamina. Never forget this.
6. From Force to Flow
For me, running 100 or 200 miles in a single race, well, let’s be frank, destroys my body in the moment. However, the tradeoff is astonishing, at least it has been in my experience.
When I think back to the many positive changes I’ve made over the years physically, mentally, and spiritually, it’s really quite amazing. The positive changes in my diet, life, faith, purpose, and mindset all stem from the great joy and great suffering that I’ve experienced while running extraordinarily long distances.
When running long distances, you develop an enormously strong body to endure the physical pain, and at the same time, you develop an enormously strong mind to endure the mental anguish.
In life, just like your muscles, you must break yourself down so you can build yourself up and become stronger. The path upwards always begins downwards.
You see, running long distances breaks down the ego, which allows something more profound to enter into your life. Suddenly, your running leaves from a corrosive, fight-or-flight state and enters into a harmonic rhythm and flow.
When this occurs, instead of feeling like you’re traveling upstream with force, you will flow downstream with grace. You’ll find your stride to be smoother while running longer with less effort.
It all starts with the act of allowing. Let go and catch the flow.
Don’t force it.
Nature serves us, and we serve nature. Life is relational.
Allow running in the rain to be your healing, the sunrise to be your motivation, and crossing the finish line to be your transcendence into a brand new life!
As I like to say…
I never race against another person, nor do I race against myself, I LET GO. I eliminate the resistance from within and allow my spirit to move me forward.
7. From Stage to Service
When you first run outside, or around people, say at a gym, it’s easy to feel like you are performing. I see it a lot in new runners. In the same way, I remember feeling this way when I was younger.
And although you may catch a look or two, the truth is, no one is really watching. Instead, you are likely projecting your own thoughts and feelings onto others.
As you can see, this mentality makes running far more stressful than required. It also leads to over-performing, which in turn can easily lead to injury.
So, guess what?
Sometimes you may have to walk, and that’s okay!
Sometimes you may need to stop for a drink, and that’s okay!
Sometimes you may run under pace, and that’s okay!
Running with everything you have, at every moment of your run, will only result in burnout. In short, overtraining is more problematic than it is beneficial.
To help, shift your focus away from yourself. Instead of focusing on “me,” focus on “we.” That is, focus on serving others.
How is the mileage you run helping make someone else life better?
Are you a parent? Does running make you more alert, active, and engaged with your children?
Are you an artist or a writer? Does running bring out your creativity? Your insight? Does it help you hear that inner voice?
Are you running with a friend who needs to improve their health? Are you encouraging them? The more knowledge you develop with running and diet, the greater of an influence you can be in their life.
Here’s the point: anytime the ego is getting the better of you, find your heart-center, and focus on service. Don’t impress. Instead, let go and bless.
Do this, and your running will never be the same.
Here’s a thought I had on my last run: If you break free from the cage and get off the stage, you’ll run from the One, and find out why you were made.
8. From Nothing to Everything
“Four blind men went to see an elephant.
One touched a leg of the elephant and said: “The elephant is like a pillar.”
The second touched the truck and said: “The elephant is like a thick club.”
The third touched the belly and said: “the elephant is like a huge jar.
The fourth touched the ears and said: “The elephant is like a big winnowing-basket.”
Then they began to dispute among themselves as to the figure of the elephant.
A passer-by, seeing them thus quarreling, asked them what it was about. They told him everything and begged him to settle the dispute.
The man replied: “None of you has seen the elephant. The elephant is not like a pillar, its legs are like pillars. It is not like a big water-jar, its belly is like a water-jar. It is not like a winnowing basket, its ears are like winnowing-baskets. It is not like a stout club, its truck is like a club. The elephant is like the combination of all these.”
In the same manner do those sectarians quarrel who have seen only one aspect of the Deity.”
~The Gospel of Ramakrishna
The point of the parable in our current context is that today’s truest of truths are tomorrow’s most limiting limitations. Yet the more open we are to new ideas, the more we can grow.
Running is a journey. By running open to change and new ideas, you create a space for more of your potential to come through. In this case, that potential is learning how to get better at running distance.
Remember these words: To know nothing is to know everything and to let go is to fly high. When we think we know everything, we limit ourselves, stunting our growth indefinitely.
Although each new paradigm can contribute to your progression, you may not align with all eight.
Well, guess what?
We are all enduring this experience called life together. However, we are all on our own paths. Remember, these power mental shifts are not strategies to apply, but instead, insights to align with.
Whatever words spoke to you the most are the ones to take with you. Otherwise, you will be limited, rather than illuminated.
There is an infinite potential seated within our inner dwelling. It’s impersonal and shines brighter as you eliminate limiting beliefs by becoming consciously aware of them.
Ultimately, this is how to get better at running distance. That is, yielding to overcome.
Sure, you’ll need to improve physically.
However, it’s less about developing new habits and more about breaking old ones. Your body knows how to eat, run, and progress instinctively. This is survival. All you need to do is shake off the negative worldly influences you’ve been subjected to and listen to your inner voice. In other words, no one knows your body better than you.
In this way, these small shifts are not just anything…
They are EVERYTHING.
Make some new health decisions both physically and mentally, and I’ll see you at the finish line!
Remember…expectations can weigh you down on race day. Instead of focusing on how it should be, accept your situation for what it is. Adapt to changes and be open to intuitive solutions.
Run without the desire to finish, and you will find joy in your running. When you find joy in your running, you will not stop, thus crossing the finish line every time.
Mindful Running Bonus
How have I run so far so many times?
My answer: My running transformed from a physical act to a spiritual practice. Distance is relative and every step is an expression of the faith in my soul.
Because here’s the secret: I don’t run toward the finish line, I run toward the light, and every happening is a subtle expression of this divine dance of life.
Because one day you realize It was never the stars you were reaching for, it was God. In this way, your outer journey can be just as profound as your inner. In fact, they are very much one in the same.
With that, if you are looking for more tips to inspire your long-distance running journey, then give one of my new books a read. It’s called ‘My Long-Distance Running Journey: 101 Long-Distance Running Tips To Pave The Way.‘
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And what does one do after landing on the moon? The answer: fuel up and head toward Mars!
If you are considering running an ultramarathon or are an ultramarathon runner and want to try a mindful approach, then check out my newest book. It’s called ‘Mindful Ultramarathon Running: Train To Run Longer, Stronger, and Faster With Less Effort.’
Thank you very much for reading and enjoy the journey!