Mind tricks for an ultra runner

Distance running is a mind game and it’s usually my strongest tool. I’m good at hushing my inner voice, keeping my eye on the prize and getting it done. Yes, there’s always a lot to be said for hydration, fuel and kit but I had all of those things in check. It was my mind that broke down at the North Face 50k and it was hard. I finished this race but it beat me mentally. Thankfully, I have a few lessons that I’ve learned from it.

Focus and goals

I’m all about goals. I like to push myself and I wholeheartedly put everything I have into running. When I started this race on Saturday it was a crap shoot. I was coming into it with a barely recovered knee injury and a whole lot of physical doubt. I didn’t have a real goal in my mind and I kept thinking we’ll see how it goes. Well, I’ll tell you how it went. Messy. I kept changing my goal and I wasn’t focussed. I didn’t use my Garmin like I usually do. I didn’t keep track of my pace and I didn’t push myself. I didn’t keep my eye on the line. I didn’t do all the goal related rituals that make my runs successful. I now know that I can’t run to just “finish”. That’s something I could have done the first time I did this distance but not now. When I race I need to set a goal and use each km split to work towards it.

Starting out at 7am I was feeling great and was just hoping my knee would hold on. I didn’t have a time goal.

My inner voice

My inner voice is usually pretty inspiring but apparently she took a day off. I spent the first part of this race taking it easy. Not running too hard or fast but playing it smart. At one point I thought we’d beat our first ultra time and I got excited. I started pushing and it felt good. Then, I got soft and she wasn’t there. I let people pass, I slowed down, I walked, a lot. I checked our time around 40 k and I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I then succumbed to that inner voice of complacency. That’s all I can think of to describe it. I’ve never had this before. I always amp up before it’s too late but not in this race. For this race my inner voice was fine with just ok. Who was this person? Where was I? When I’m running ultras I need my inner voice to be strong, motivating and determined.

This was taken around 15 k when I was feeling strong and still running a decent pace.

My Mantra

At the start of each race I have my mantra and when it gets tough, I repeat it. In my first ultra it was “Don’t look back, you’re not going there.” In my second it was “Just keep running.” My mantra works and it can be anything, simple or a little cryptic – whatever works! On Saturday I didn’t have an inspiring phrase, I wasn’t prepared. When I race I need guaranteed inspiration to fall back on, a mantra to repeat in tough times.

Fatigue Crushed Happy Runner Girl

I’m a happy runner but somewhere around the 7 hour mark I turned sour. Fatigue does crazy things and sometimes only a finish line can stop that train wreck. I was struggling with the extra time I was out on the trail and I was making mechanical mistakes. I was tired and couldn’t control my footsteps. I wasn’t agile, I was sloppy and it was frustrating. I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t stop and change my mood, I didn’t try to turn it around. I embraced the negativity. I forgot to be happy. I kept going on sad, drained and feeling defeated. I fell and then I fell again. I was tired and frustrated and just wanted to get it done but I couldn’t go faster. When I’m running I need to be consistent and efficient because if I’m out there too long I get worn out and crabby.


I can see it was a slow day but I finished. It’s funny because usually I’d be done somewhere in the 6 hour range or right when I started to slow down from the data on this graph.


I bet you’re probably thinking that this whole day just sounds awful. It wasn’t. It was challenging and beautiful. I completed my third 50 km race in 11 weeks. I had a super great time when I look back on it. I learned some really interesting things about myself and I came away with solid strategies to work on. I surprised myself and I now realize how important the mental game is. You can train for months, have everything you need plus the perfect weather but if your mind isn’t in it you are in for a battle.

As soon as I had my medal it was all good and now I’m back to looking for my next 50K!




3 thoughts on “Mind tricks for an ultra runner

  1. Caron, you shared this so honestly, so passionately and from the heart. It was a tough course and you ran with so much discomfort with that knee.

    I am very proud of you, and it was an honour to run with you. It means more than you ever know.

    But I’ve read those redemption runs are SOOO sweet. Your next race I guarantee it, you will be on fire. And your Uncle carl will never keep up with you. 😀


  2. Pingback: I Did Not Want To Fail – theoldfellowgoesrunning

  3. I think the type of run you had is just as important as those ones when things come together. The fact that mentally you weren’t at your best and you were dealing with physical issues, yet you still completed the race is a sign that you ARE mentally strong! the easier option would have been to quit. In some ways, this race could be considered even more of a success than previous ones. Well done!


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