5 mental tricks a marathon runner uses to get through the toughest parts of a race

Courtesy of Photo RunScott Bauhs competing in the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in January.

An eight-time NCAA Division II All-American and winner of three national titles, elite runner Scott Bauhs says he plans to dedicate the next four years of his pro career to “perfecting the marathon.”

The 30-year-old became the youngest American to complete both the four-minute mile and the 28-minute 10,000 meter run in 2008 while at Chico State, and went on to race in the 2011 World Track and Field Championships.

In February, he competed at the US Olympic Marathon Trials for one of three remaining spots at the Rio Olympics.

The Asics-sponsored athlete keeps a busy schedule: In the last two weeks, he’s raced the USA half-marathon championships in Columbus, Ohio, headed to New York for the annual UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, and celebrated his 30th birthday in between.

“After that, I’ll just train and try to run some 12k, 10k, and 5k races between now and July,” he says. “Then I’ll take a little break and ramp up for a marathon in the fall.”

Out of breath just hearing that? Business Insider spoke with Bauhs about motivation, the mental side of running a marathon, and just what goes through an elite runner’s head during those 26.2 miles of pavement.

Here’s what he had to say:

1. Don't zone out -- think about the race

How do marathoners pass the time? Anyone that hasn't run a marathon might assume runners are zoning out, daydreaming of beer at the finish line or a triple-cheese pizza waiting on their kitchen table.

Not the case, according to Bauhs. While it does depend on the runner and his or her motivations, Bauhs explains that many serious runners are spending most of the race thinking about their pace, hitting splits, and monitoring their competitors.

'For the most part, I'm not thinking about much outside of the race. I'm ignoring just about everything except for the road in front of me and the guys around me, and then trying to assess how I feel and pay attention to the course,' he says.

Bauhs doesn't even listen to music when he runs. He's never actively trying to zone out when running, he says, because he has to be focused, at least somewhat, at all times.

Robert Cheseret, Galen Rupp and Scott Bauhs compete in men's 5000 meter run during Day Four of the 2012 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 25, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon.

2. Tune out distractions by sizing up your competitors

'When there's a crazy-looking person screaming and waving signs on the side of the road, or when you run through New York and you run by Times Square, you can't help but notice big landmarks and people like that,' Bauhs says.

How does he stay focused with crowds of people shouting, ringing cowbells, and offering high-fives for 26 miles?

He assesses the competition.

'You see it, you acknowledge it, but when I'm racing I'm focusing on the task at hand. I'm looking at the runners around me and gauging how they're feeling,' he says. 'Is their breathing labored or is their form breaking down?'

Staying with a pack running at a pace close to his own is key in a marathon, Bauhs explains, so he's constantly trying to assess whether he's running next to the right people. He looks at runners' posture and how they're holding their arms to judge their physical condition.

'If their posture is pretty straight, and their arm movements are snappy, you see they look like they're still full of energy. If they're starting to droop more, and it looks forced to keep the same rhythm they have been maintaining, they're starting to lose energy.'

Scott Bauhs competes in the men's 5000 meter run during Day Four of the 2012 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 25, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon.

3. Focus on the hard work you put in to stay motivated

For Bauhs, watching a cluster of runners pull away from him and being unable to respond physically is one of the most mentally difficult moments in a marathon. He says it'svery hard to stay focused on putting his best effort forward and fight the urge to give up when this happens.

'As I've gotten older, it's gotten a little bit easier to recognise that it's a temporary challenge,' he says. 'I still have a race to run, so I just need to try to get to the finish line as quickly as possible and then learn from my mistakes, or just try to train harder for the next one.'

What motivates him to keep going when he's exhausted or feeling defeated?

'For me, it's all the hard work that you put into it, and again, knowing that the goal is just to get to the finish line,' Bauhs says.

'It's also the hard work that my coaches and family members and friends have put in -- what they have invested in my success,' he says. 'That's what gets me to the finish line.'

Scott Bauhs and Mohamed Trafeh compete in the men's 5000 meter run during Day Four of the 2012 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 25, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon.

4. It's more important to finish hard than start fast

'I've never gone out too slow in a race before, but I've certainly gone out too fast many, many times,' Bauhs says.

Runners can often make up a lot of ground in the last eight to 10 miles of a race if they're feeling good, he explains, stressing the importance of staying relaxed and being patient through the beginning of a race.

'You want to run an aggressive pace at the beginning if you can, but it's a lot better to finish hard than it is to start hard and finish at a much slower pace.'

5. Try to relax as much as possible

The best piece of advice Bauhs ever received goes all the way back to the very beginning of his career.

'When I was in high school, my coach would just say to me, 'relaxed is fast,''' he says. 'And that has really rung true throughout my entire career.'

When Bauhs starts overthinking and worrying, races tend to be a little bit tougher, he explains. When he goes into a race very relaxed, it's a completely different -- and much smoother -- experience.

In the most physically and mentally challenging moments of a marathon, he's trying to stay relaxed and always remembering one very important thing -- how grateful he is to be doing what he loves.

'From the very first race that I've ever run, I've been doing this for fun,' he says. 'I've been blessed to take it pretty far, but still, the point in doing this is because it's fun. So, I just try to stay relaxed and appreciate being able to run these races.'

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