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Attention and Running

Updated: May 14

When we run we can focus on a whole variety of things. For example, we may focus on how far we have run, how our body feels, our heart rate, or the scenery around us. It turns out that what we choose to focus on can impact both our running performance and our running experience.

Runners (particularly experienced runners) seem to prefer attentional strategies where they focus on internal things associated with their performance such as pace, heart rate, or breathing rates as compared to dissociative (distraction) strategies like solving a mental puzzle or taking in the scenery on the run. Research, however, is fairly conclusive that engaging in distraction strategies, focusing externally to your body, and away from running performance can actually have a positive impact on your running performance, your running enjoyment, and improve running economy (e.g., the efficiency by which you use oxygen). These findings are especially true if you are running long distances and if you are a newer runner. 


Likely when we run we won’t focus on just one thing. Our attention will shift from focusing on our bodies, to our pace, to runners around us and back again. The best thing we can do when it comes to attentional focus is to practice skills to be in control of what we pay attention to. So on your next run if you find yourself focused on what your body is doing or how your body is feeling, consider trying to shift that focus to what you can see, hear, and feel around you. Practicing switching your attentional focus can really help you to be in control of your attention in a race when things are really hard and you need the distraction!

This article originally appeared in the The Connection, TCM's weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe here.

Photo by Ben Garvin.


Hayley Russell, PhD, is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant, runner, and professor of health and exercise psychology at Gustavus Adolphus College. She is one of the team of Motion Experts TCM has gathered to help its subscribers and participants get the most out of their running. Have a question for Hayley: [email protected] or visit


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