10 Ways to Make Long Runs Seem Shorter

Games and mental exercises to get you to the finish pronto

Photo: Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash

Last updated on February 8th, 2023

We’ve all done it–invented tricks to make the time go by more quickly or to keep your mind off an ache or pain. My running friends and I have gotten creative with ways to kill time, especially when we were training for full marathons. Those 20-milers can seem endless, but you don’t have to limit yourself to listening to music or idle chit-chat. Here are a few “games” and mental exercises to get you to the finish a little faster, or at least with a smile on your face and laughter on your lips.

  1. Create verbal A-to-Z lists. Let’s say your running group has 5 members. Start an A-to-Z list by deciding on a topic. The weirder the topic is, the better. Some examples would be “Personality Disorders,” “Fast-food Restaurants That Practically Guarantee Diarrhea,” or “Favorite Things to Order on the Side.” Let’s take personality disorders. The first person gets the letter “A,” so they have to come up with a personality disorder that begins with an “A,”–and it doesn’t have to be real–such as “Annoying Voice Syndrome” or “Aggressive Laugh.” The next person takes “B” and lists a personality disorder that begins with “B.” You wouldn’t believe how much fun this is, and how much time goes by while you’re thinking about the topic and not about how tired you are. My friends and I have explored such themes as “Medical Conditions: Real or Imagined,” “Things That Might Come Out of a Coyote’s Butt” and “26 Reasons to Run A Marathon.” (The coyote thing was during a season when coyote poop seemed to be everywhere on our trail; for “J,” someone suggested “Justin Timberlake concert ticket stub.” Hey, it could happen…and yes, I was the “someone.”)     

  2. List celebrities you’d like to have lunch with. This can be done in alphabetical order, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t be surprised if Matt Damon comes up a lot.

  3. List celebrities you wouldn’t even consider going to coffee with. Don’t be surprised if Bobby Brown comes up a lot.

  4. Play “Name Your Colon.” This one’s not as straightforward as you might think. My sister’s colon has two names (for its two distinct personalities), and yours might need more than that. It’s fun to try to get the name just right, and your running partners can help you decide. Are you a Gonzo? A Niles? A Lillian? You’ll know when you come up with just the right moniker.   

  5. Sing show tunes. Or just listen to your running partners sing show tunes. I’ve only seen “The Sound of Music” twice, but I feel like I’ve seen it hundreds of times because I’ve heard 2 of my running buddies sing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” at mile 16 on more than one occasion. 

  6. Sing theme songs to old TV shows. Fan favorites are “Flipper” and “The Brady Bunch,” but nobody’s going to bat an eyelash if you want to belt out the theme song to “The Jeffersons.”

  7. Sing anything. Even “Mary Had a Little Lamb” will make the time fly. Try harmonizing to “You Are My Sunshine” or “Happy Birthday.” Hey, you’re a good singer!

  8. Tell jokes. There’s nothing like falling over laughing in the middle of a run to keep things light.

  9.  Reminisce about notable past runs. Remember that time your group ran the LA Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in October and you saw Will Ferrell running it too? And he was way ahead of you, and you weren’t mad because he’s Will Ferrell and he’s awesome and he deserves to beat you? Remember that?   

  10. Plan your future races. Discuss running a marathon in Dublin, Ireland, and never do it. Or talk about running the New York Marathon and intend to do it, but then don’t sign up. Talk about where you’d stay, what you’d eat, what your finish time would be. It’s all in the name of fun, and it sure makes the time go fast! Before you know it, you’re done. Time for a bagel and eggs. Good job!

How do you get through long runs? Let us know in the comments section below!