Working on My Mental Toughness

Building Mental Toughness in Running

Looking back at my training for races, I do a lot of cringing.

As in, insert forehead slap, “What was I thinking?!”

Particularly half and full marathon training.

Name any single one – not fueling during training, skimping on running goal pace miles, running through pain, etc and I’ve done them all. I’d like to think I’m getting wiser the more I run, that I’m learning from my past mistakes. But I’m a stubborn runner. Sometimes it takes a failure or ten, for me to have an AHA! moment.

One of the biggest things that I’m working on this training period is building my mental toughness.

I’ve learned over the years that running is at least 90% mental. My mind needs to be trained just as much as my muscles and cardiorespiratory system. When negative thoughts creep in, things can quickly take a nose dive.

I can’t becomes my mantra. Which usually follows with a slowing pace.

Building mental toughness in running |

I trained for a half marathon a few years ago that I had my heart set on achieving a shiny new PR.  My training went really well so I thought it was going to be easy (as easy as running a half marathon can be – lol!).

Long story short – I tanked at mile 3 because of negative thoughts.

I was so worried throughout my training and the days leading up to the race that a tendon injury that I had 6 months prior was going to rear it’s ugly head and prevent me from reaching my goal.

Worry leads to self sabotage. I felt one little twinge and spiraled out of control with negativity. By mile 6 I was ready to walk off the course.

FYI – I was completely fine. Who knows…maybe there never even was a twinge? Once Negative Nellie had her hands on me, I was toast.

Since this will be my first real race effort since my injury in 2015, I don’t want a repeat of that scenario.

Negative Nellie is being replaced with Positive Polly.

Or at least I’m trying to do this. Like I said, I’m in training.

Last week, during my long run that called for the last 5 miles at goal marathon pace, I put into practice what I’ve failed to do in my previous training plans.

Simple phrases like I am strong or I can do hard things totally flipped my perspective and that fast finish wasn’t nearly as tough as I envisioned it was going to be.

Building mental toughness in runnin g|

Along with the positive self talk, I’ve been trying to visualize myself running the actual race.  Of course, I’m visualizing me crossing the finish line, arms raised high above my head, with my goal marathon time on the finisher’s clock.

I’m also visualizing moments where I’ll be fatigued and want to stop.   I’m visualizing the last few miles where I’m deep in the pain cave and just want to be D.O.N.E with the damn race. What will I do to get my head out of that moment?  How will I direct my attention elsewhere?

I put my body through the paces of training. It’s time my mind got a workout too. Fingers crossed, we all work together on race day!

Are you a Negative Nellie or Positive Polly on race day?

What’s your best mental trick in running?

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday and the Coaches’ Corner.


17 comments on “Working on My Mental Toughness

  1. I vascillate between the two ladies. But once I start running, I am Neutral Nancy. I just start going. I guess I am abnormally mentally tough when it comes to just chugging. Now, sprints are different!
    That isn’t to say that I never doubt or come down on myself–but usually I just don’t give myself another option 😀

  2. A few weeks ago I knew I needed to walk 15 miles for training for the marathon. First and foremost I was extraordinarily proud of the fact I didn’t blow it off. I should be embarrassed that I considered blowing it off – – but I did
    I was great until about mile 15. I pushed through to close to 18 but it truly was the first time in my life I had experienced that mental wavering. Physically I felt/knew I could continue mentally I just thought I want to stop
    20 miles is coming up but I feel as though I’m better prepared both with the awareness I’m going to hit that wall and with tools like you described above

  3. I constantly struggle with the mental aspect of running. The biggest thing I need to work on is the negative self talk. I’m definitley a work in progress!

  4. The mental part of running can absolutely make or break you. In my last marathon it completely broke me. I was upset after because I knew if I could have just broken out of my mental headspace I could have achieved more. I’ve done a lot of work on mental toughness but sometimes its still so tough!

  5. Learning how to use positive self-talk made a significant difference for me in racing, especially at CIM. When that pain cave arrived during the last 4-5 miles, I acknowledged what felt fatigued, told myself that it was just temporary, and then redirected my mind by focusing on a runner just ahead of me. I love the mantra “I can do hard things.”
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  6. I like to think myself as being mentally tough but I let the negative thoughts get the best of me last year during a race and it has haunted me since. Ironically, it was only 4 miles, haha. Funny how the mind can really control your performance.

  7. I think I go both ways on this, depending on the circumstances (or the severity of said circumstances). I do catch myself having “flashes” of self-doubt, sometimes early in a long-distance race…and once that Nellie chick makes an appearance, she is hard to ignore.

  8. oh my goodness, yes. I’ve learned that mental toughness can be more than half the battle sometimes! That’s awesome that you’re focusing on it alongside your training. The pay off will be huge!

  9. Yes to all of this. So much of any challenge we face is mental. I’ll never forget my trainer stopping me from performing a squat, making me take a step back to “approach the bar with confidence.” If you think you can’t… you’re probably right. Change your mind, change your ability.

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