How to keep your focus and motivation when training for a running race

As runners, we are often told that the key to good results is consistency in training. As an endurance sport, we get the physical improvements we want when we train regularly at a level that is just high enough to prompt positive fitness adaptations, but not so hard as to cause our bodies to break down completely. It can be tough to get the balance right between too much and not enough. It can also be difficult to keep the focus up over the long weeks of a training plan building up to a target race. When you’re deep enough into the plan to be feeling the effects of accumulated fatigue, but still a long way off from the welcome taper and the excitement of the big day, how do you summon the motivation to get out the door for yet another run?

There are no doubt loads of self-help methods you could try, but these are four of our favourite simple tips to help you get through a long training block with your focus and motivation intact.

Trick yourself and count down

Jonathan from the Lonely Goat HQ team is currently training for the Chester Marathon taking place in October. To help him get through the training block (especially the tougher long runs on the plan), he is repeatedly telling his legs that the marathon will be the last run he ever does before retiring from running for good. Clearly, he’s lying to himself, and he knows that, but it doesn’t matter – it’s just mind games.

By saying that the marathon will be his last ever run, it keeps his focus on the marathon as the end goal. He’s not thinking beyond Chester and ahead to the next race (and deliberately hasn’t entered any), and he isn’t coming up with big plans for the future. Instead, by thinking of the Chester Marathon as his last ever run, it helps him to make sure that all his efforts are focussed on running the best he can on the day.

To boost this ‘last ever run’ motivational mind game, Jonathan is counting down each run. It’s easier to get out the door on tired legs, in bad weather, if you tell yourself that you’ve only got 49 runs left (for example) so you might as well make the most of each and every run.

Set goals for each run

You may already set yourself goals for your races – perhaps A, B or C goals depending on how well the race goes – but have you ever considered doing so for your training runs, too?

For example:

  • The goal for your long run might be to improve your endurance or practice race-day nutrition.
  • The goal for a fartlek session might be to improve your speed.
  • The goal for a recovery run might be to loosen off stiff legs and prepare yourself for the next hard run.

Identifying a goal for each run helps you to run with intention – rather than just going through the motions automatically – and this helps to keep you focussed and motivated.

Remember your Why

Why did you enter your target race in the first place? Was it to get a PB, improve your fitness, raise money for charity, or to achieve something else? Whatever your reason, make sure you remind yourself of it frequently. It can be easy to forget our Why when in the midst of heavy training and the bigger picture gets lost in the details of the daily grind.

If you place a prompt somewhere prominent, you can keep your personal motivation front of mind. Pop a note on the drawer where you keep your running stuff, add a daily reminder to pop up on your phone, or even write your Why onto your shoes. And don’t just read it, but say it out loud like a mantra, whenever you see it.


If you’re tired, everything feels harder. The temptation can be to add extra things in to our day to aid recovery: compression clothing, stretching, massage, protein shakes, etc. Yet the single best recovery method we have available to us is sleep. It is when we’re asleep that our body is best able to repair our aching bodies and reset stressed minds. If you skimp on sleep, you’re skimping on recovery.

By all means, stick with all the other recovery methods if that’s what you want to do, but prioritise sleep first.

What are your tried and tested methods?

These are four ways to get through the slog of a long training block prior to a big race, but there’ll be more out there. One of the great things about running is that every runner is different – with a different body and a different personality – so what works for one runner may not work for another. It also means that someone, somewhere is likely to have an answer to your questions. One of the best places to seek out advice is in the Lonely Goat Running Club Facebook Chat Group. With more than 20,000 members it’s jammed full of friendly, supportive runners. Hop in to the Chat Group and ask the collective wisdom of the Lonely Goat Herd for advice, or offer up your own. It may just help one of your fellow runners to achieve their goals.

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