Running: it’s a sport that drives us, literally, to distraction. On one hand, we want the benefits, such as endorphins, mental clarity and sleek legs. On the other, we fight the pain. Because, yes, running hurts. Often, quite a lot.

No wonder many of us prefer to watch something while we run. A gripping news story or a classic episode of Friends could help even the laziest jogger crank out an extra mile on the treadmill. Yet, according to research from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Valencia, runners who look directly ahead – at a screen in the gym, for example – as opposed to towards the floor, adjust their style to lift their body and feet higher during each stride.

Not only is this a surefire way to run slower (all that air time), but it can also lead to injury, since your knees and ankle joints are used to absorb the shock caused by falling from a greater height.

If TV is a bad idea, then, what can you do to keep your mind amused while your legs keep moving? Podcasts and audio books are obvious sources of distraction. Some runners use playlists featuring tracks with a similar number of beats per minute as their expected stride rate (Spotify adjusts to your pace automatically). Varying your incline and speed also keep things interesting.

Downloading a running app can help; most can be set to chime in every few minutes with an update on how fast or far you have run. In really tough moments, or during races that prohibit headphones, I either repeat a mantra (“pain is temporary”) or use mental arithmetic to keep my mind focused yet diverted: chopping up the remaining running time into batches of 10 or five seconds and counting down the segments; picking a random number and counting backwards to zero in awkward chunks, such as sevens.

For visual types, using your imagination helps: you can cultivate a detailed scenario of the ticker-tape finish when you reach a short- or long-term goal or conjure an image of your post-run reward, be it a bath, a drink in the pub or simply a pervasive sense of smugness.

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