One of the main reasons I enjoy blogging about the subject of running is that I get to write about any topic that feels right for me and/or for my blog at any given moment.
This actually helps me develop on all levels—running and writing. And of course, the more I write about subjects of interest to runners and me, the more readers I can attract to my blog and the happier I feel since I get to help as many struggling runners out there as possible.
Enter Mental Training For Runners
One of the subjects that I’m interested in but haven’t written about diligently, is the subject of mental training for runners, especially what makes a runner mentally strong.
Therefore, in today’s post, I’m gonna share with you some of my best advice when it comes to building and maintaining mental toughness for your runs (and for the rest of your life).
So why mental toughness is so critical, and how can we develop more of it (without hiring some expensive life coach)?
What is Mental Toughness?
So what makes a runner mentally strong (or not)?
Oh boy, that’s a hard question to answer.
Mental toughness is not the easiest thing to define and explain.
Even so, I’m gonna do my best to provide you with a simple answer before I jump into the practical stuff
In its basic definition, mental toughness can be described as one’s capacity to perform consistently at the best (or highest level possible) regardless of thoughts, inner state, difficulties and external conditions and distractions. That’s it.
For runners, this might mean different things—depending on the athlete and the type of challenges he or she is facing on a regular basis. That’s why mental toughness—or grit— means different things to different people.
The Importance of Mental Toughness
Mental toughness is what separate the wheat from the chaff in all areas of life.
It separates the superstar athlete from the struggling amateur.
It separates the best from the merely good.
You get the picture…
Without it, you can have the best genes in the world, but you’ll ALWAYS be of average ability, period.
And once you start building and cultivating mental toughness, you’ll definitely stand a better chance of reaching your running best and achieving your running goals—short, medium and long term.
1. Define What Mental Toughness Means for You
As I have already stated, mental toughness is a tricky thing. It’ hard to explain and it means different things to different people.
That’s why you need to come up with your definition and what the whole thing means to you; otherwise, you’ll never grasp what mental toughness is all about.
Whatever comes first to your mind, jot it down. Don’t judge it. Even if you have to brainstorm a long list of definitions, do it. You can’t do this exercise wrong.
Mental toughness for you might mean:
- Keeping your runs consistent for at least one month.
- Becoming a morning runner.
- Starting a running program from zero.
- Increasing your weekly running mileage without succumbing to pain or boredom.
- Venturing into uncharted territories.
- Running alone in adverse weather conditions.
- Saying no to junk and processed food for a month.
- Grinding out an extra 200-meter sprint at the end of your track workout.
- Doing the workouts you hate—whether it’s a long run, hill reps, or a challenging trail run.
- Running with an elite group and keeping up.
- Finishing an ultra distance event.
- You name it…
Next thing to do is to make your definition as precise as possible, then keep tweaking it and updating it as you get stronger and more experienced.
Nothing is written in stone, buddy. And there is always, always, room for improvement.
So don’t settle.
2. Visualize Mental Toughness
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve, as the saying goes. This might sound like a new age, self-help nonsense, but when it comes to the world of performance—provided that you are realistic—it’s really practical, especially over the long haul.
What mental imagery is all about is seeing yourself ALREADY achieving your running goals and winning before you actually get to do it in the real world.
It’s just like what the Navy Seal say “We win in our mind before we enter the battlefield.”
Build the habit of taking, at least, 5 to 10 minutes each day to mentally rehearse your running (and life) goals.
Here is how:
First of all, put yourself in a relaxed and calm state. Breathe deep and slow.
Remove all distractions and get your mind focused on your breaths. Relax and let go…
Next, create a series of images in your mind’s eye of what you want to accomplish with your training program. Imagine yourself in the perfect running situation—whether it’s an everyday run, or a challenging race you’ been training for months.
Be as vivid and clear as possible—allow no room for ambiguity.
Then, run that mental movie over and over again, until feelings and sensations of strength, resilience, self-confidence and power emerge from your body. That’s how you’ll know that you are on the right track.
3. Set the Right Goals
Get this: you’ll never achieve any sort of mental toughness, in any area of life, if you fail to set goals.
Why do you need to set goals?
Setting the right goals will keep you driven and motivated to achieve more. By having a clear objective in mind, your training will become meaningful, and decisive instead of just going through the motions of clocking up the miles.
As a result, make your running goals a priority. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with no sense of direction at all.
For more on goal setting, check my post here.
Grab a piece of paper and start the goals setting process, right NOW!!
Do you want to lose weight?
Are you looking to complete your first marathon?
Do you want to get faster?
Or do you just want to stay in a decent shape?
Whatever your goals are, it’s okay—just set them, go after them and leave the rest for the universe.
Also, make sure to have a well-defined and realistic—but challenging—goal for each training session and cycle. It is to improve form, work on your speed, increase mileage, tackle technical terrain, develop an on-the-run hydration and fueling strategy, or mainly run out of your comfort zone and stretch your limits?
Whatever it is, define it and go after it.
With that said, please make sure to keep it simple. Don’t try to chew too much at once. Do one thing at a time.
4. Build a Positive Mindset
Having the right mindset is perhaps one of the most crucial pillars of building a tough mental attitude.
In other words, “If you think that you can, or can’t, you’re probably right. (John Ford).
Of course, this might sound like the corniest thing ever, but I don’t think that you’d come across a successful runner who didn’t invest the time and effort (consciously or unconsciously) in practicing and building a positive mindset.
In my experience, developing a positive mindset boils down to your self-dialogue—the way and how you talk to yourself on a daily basis, period.
Here is your homework:
There are two parts to this exercise:
Part 1: Build Awareness
Here is the mental exercise you need to practice to build more mental space when it comes to the way you talk to yourself.
Build the habit of listening to what you are saying to yourself on a daily basis. Keep tabs on it and analyze. Also, be aware of the tone of the voice you use, the timber, the speed, etc.
Analyze your self-talk throughout different states of mind. How is it when you afraid? Confident? In the flow? Happy?
For instance, if you keep saying to yourself: “I’ll never be able to do this” before after your first few runs, then you’ll shooting yourself in your own foot.
Part: 2 Use Mantras
As you already know, self-talk is mostly subconscious—it takes place outside of one’s awareness. Even so, it yields immense power.
One powerful tool I use to build a powerful mindset and overcome the negativity is mantras. Mantras, or power words, are powerful and can help you overcome the negativity, and develop the mental toughness needed to excel. Statements like” I can do it,” “I’m capable,” etc. are some fine examples.
Check my post here for a long list of powerful mantras.
You can also find plenty of mantras and power words with a simple Google search or check my posts here.
As a result, pick a few mantras or shorts phrases to help motivate you and keep you going strong even when all the odds are stacked against you.
Also, feel free to come up with your own list of mantras that work the best for you. Personal experience and personal meaning is what matters the most.
5. Run in Adverse Conditions
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you are the type of a runner who seeks comfort and always on the lookout for training under the ideal conditions, then you are missing out, big time.
The fact is, if you want to build the type of mental toughness that will never stand you out, you need to build the habit of running outside of comfort zone.
So please build the practice of getting out of your comfort zone.
The real magic happens when you start stepping out of your comfort zone, and no matter how many tricks you have got up your sleeves, nothing will really change if you are stuck in what’s familiar and secure.
This is roadwork.
If you are serious about stepping out of your comfort zone, then do the workouts you hate.
Here are a few examples:
- Run somewhere unfamiliar.
- Tackle a mountainous route.
- Run in the snow.
- Tackle a technical terrain with lots obstacles.
- Run in the rain.
- Run in the middle of the day during the summer.
- Run long distances alone and with no distractions.
- Peer up with an elite runner and go training together.
- Practice mindful running…
All of these runs will inevitably force you out of your comfort zone.
6. Cultivate Focus
All of the ancient traditions emphasize the importance of developing a focused mind for building the mental attitude needed to deal with life without going insane.
And one of the most famous and effective tools is meditation.
In fact, I think that meditation is key to happiness. I have already written about meditation a couple of times on my blog, and I believe that this ancient tool is a practice you can never ignore—whether you are looking to build mental toughness, ease stress, become happier, you name it.
This is quite simple.
Meditate for at least 15 to 20 minutes every day.
Also, be sure to meditate for a short session before every workout—especially if it’s hard session, like a long run or an interval session.
Focus on breathing deeply in through your nose, and out through your mouth, aiming to clear your mind of extraneous thoughts, aiming to achieve a sense of equanimity and total calm and focus.
Featured image Credit – Brett Lohmyer through Flickr