Mental Toughness: Does it Matter in Running?

Imagine this on you next big race — you’ve been physically training hard for months, doing all the things necessary to ensure you’ll ace this one. You fueled your body with nothing but nutritious stuff, got daily adequate sleep, never missed a single training. In essence, you nailed the prep work!

But come race day, as you cross that 18th kilometer mark, you start feeling numbness in your legs and can heavily breathe. You know you’re physically ready for this kind of situation – you prepared well to hit that PR, remember? However, your mind doesn’t seem to cooperate anymore and so a number of thoughts already start to kick in:

“I feel so tired. Can I really do this?”
“I’ll just walk my way to the finish line.”
“Would it be too much of a shame if I would ride the sweeper vehicle…?”

Sounds familiar? Can you identify the missing piece of this puzzle?

Mental toughness.

“Being mentally tough is all about how we respond when we begin to feel uncomfortable or encounter an obstacle or challenge.”

Here’s the thing: Running is more than just a physical thing – it’s actually more of a mental game. In fact, according to research, running is 90% mental and the rest is physical. Despite this advice, runners tend to spend much more time preparing physically than they do mentally. While that ratio might not be completely accurate, anyone who has laced up a pair of running shoes knows that it takes more than pure physical strength to walk out the door and conquer a long run.

So, how do you strengthen your mental toughness to become a better runner? As with any type of training, working on your mental strength isn’t something you can do round the clock – but, you can follow these tips and incorporate them in your daily runs or next race:

1. Go back to your ”why”.

Sometimes when we feel lost, a little reconnection is all we need to help us bounce back to our goal. Ask yourself – why are you doing this? Is it to reach that Sub-1 10k? To get that first half-marathon medal you’ve been eyeing for so long? To burn those extra calories you had from the buffet last night? Or to eat that extra slice of cake? Whatever that reason is, reconnecting with it when we feel like giving up aids us to push forward. With a strong why, you will figure out any how, and mental toughness is all about embracing how you endure.

2. Step out of your comfort zone

If you always seek comfort when running then chances are will never “grow” as a runner. Are you a morning runner? Then try to run at night sometimes. For night owls, incorporate early morning jogs in your training plan. On the other hand, if you’re already used to running in the road, then probably it’s about time to try doing it in the trail. Starting at an inconvenient time when you may not feel fresh or doing something you’re not used to will train your mind and body to work through uncomfortable situations and help you hone both willingness and optimism to finish that run.

3. Always be optimistic!

Have you ever experienced starting strong in a run then down to the last few kilometers, that’s when all these negative thoughts enter your head? Reason being is that when running gets hard, it’s easy to start a series of negative self talk. Things like “I’m so slow” or “this hurts so much,” can bring negative impact to your performance and just mess up your whole effort from the start. Instead, turn those thoughts into positive ones: you may say “I feel strong” or “I know I can do this”. Remember, running also is a mind game – do some tricks on your mind by being positive and the next thing you know, you already crossed that finish line.

Related Article: 7 Mind Tricks to Get you to the Finish Line

So the next time you run or prepare for a race, make sure you don’t just equip yourself with physical trainings but do the mental work as well. If you train your mind to tolerate and even embrace some uncomfortable moments, you are training yourself to be able to access this same skill set come race day. Happy running! 😊

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