You may have heard the expression, “a marathon is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” Oh, you haven’t? Sorry, that is a mutation of an old Yogi Berra baseball mantra, but you get the idea. Running at any distance is a combination of physical and mental fitness. All athletes should be focused not only on increasing their endurance and speed, but also on improving mental toughness.
So how does a runner go about improving mental toughness? In many ways, race training itself helps. As training progresses, and distances get longer, speed workouts faster, you will naturally begin to build that element of mental toughness and tenacity. Running can be hard, and overcoming the challenges will make you mentally stronger.
But what if the training itself becomes overwhelming? The concept of running 26.2 or 13.1 miles at some point can seem enormous, as can the idea of setting your 5k PR or finishing a 50k. How can you develop the mental toughness required to train for a marathon, let alone complete one?
Don’t worry. You can do it. Here are some tips that will help you develop strategies and habits to improve mental toughness.
6 Tips for Improving Mental Toughness
Seriously. Relax. Breathe deeply. Take a calming breath. Controlling your breathing will help you control your stress. Reducing your stress will allow you to take control over your run.
I always have my runners visualize success. Seeing yourself cross that finish line in your mind is empowering. But to really use the power of visualization, you must go beyond the finish line. Take at least five minutes before each run, especially those that challenge you. Travel your course in your mind. Focus not just on finishing, but on what your challenges will be to get to the finish.
Is the course hilly? Visualize yourself conquering those hills. How is the weather? What and when will you eat and drink? What will you do if you start to feel bad? By mentally tackling these obstacles before you even set foot outside, you have a leg up on how you will meet your challenges.
Do the same thing before a race. Know the course, the weather forecast, the fuel available, gather all the information that you can so that you can prepare yourself.
It sounds a little silly, but years ago when I was training on a fairly steep and long hill (Torrey Pines hill for San Diegans), I would find myself singing (in my head) Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman.” To me, that song was very empowering, particularly the line, “I am strong, I am invincible.” I’d repeat that as I tackled that hill.
Creating a mantra for yourself can help you push yourself through tough times during the run.
It can be easy to fall into negative thoughts when a run gets tough. Ironically, I have found myself doing this on one of my favorite running routes. I call it Around the Cove, and it’s basically a seven-mile loop around my neighborhood. I have praised this route on Instagram several times.
The thing is, at one point during this run, there is a two-mile long hill that climbs from about 30 feet to 400 feet elevation. It’s not really steep, just around a 4-5% grade, but it is a steady uphill for the entire distance. I sometimes find myself questioning my capabilities. Can I do it? Do I want to? This is hard!
What I attempt to do when I find this happening, is to turn those thoughts into positive actions. Realizing that it is the hill that is making me feel negative is the first step. Of course, I can do it! Not only can I do it but I will be stronger when I’m done!
When you find yourself thinking negatively about aspects of your run, whether it’s the course, the weather, or anything, turn it around to create a positive. Hot weather, heck yeah! It’s going to make me tough! Steep hills to climb? Hill work is speed work in disguise, they’re going to make me faster!
Follow your plan
Your training plan, no matter what distance you are training for, is designed to get you to the finish line. It will help you build the endurance, strength, and speed that you need to accomplish your goals. By following your plan, you will be improving mental toughness simply by completing the workouts that are assigned.
Give it all you got
The above being said, following your plan means not just doing the workouts, but giving it all you’ve got. Notwithstanding injury, go after your workouts, basically leaving it all on the road or track when you’re done.
By saying this, I am not telling you to push yourself to your limits on each workout. I’m pretty sure that is not in your training plan. But when the plan says hard work, like a track or tempo workout, give it all you’ve got.
These tips will help you to build the mental toughness you need to train and compete to your best ability.
How do you improve your mental toughness? Do you have a running mantra?
And Now It’s Time for the Running Coaches’ Corner!
My weekly linkups! Please stop by and check out all of the great recipes, workouts, and information that all these awesome bloggers share every week!
Meatless Monday with Sarah and Deborah
Meatless Monday with Annmarie and Dixya
Tuesdays on the Run with Marcia, Erika, and Patty
Inspire Me Monday with Janice
Wild Workout Wednesday with Annmarie, Michelle, Jen, and Nicole
The Plant-Based Potluck Party with Deborah
The Running Coaches’ Corner with Rachel, Suz, Lora Marie, and Me!
Giveaway Roundup and Try Out Thursdays with Smitha
The Blogger’s Pit Stop with Kathleen, Janice, Julie, and Menaka
Friday 5 2.0 with Rachel and Lacey and Meranda