Mental toughness in running is nearly as important as physical fitness. While strength and endurance certainly play a key role in your physical ability to run, without mental toughness, no barriers can be broken. Running farther or faster is impossible without a strong mind.
What is mental toughness?
Mental toughness refers to the resilience of the mind – the ability to overcome obstacles and challenges, to stay confident and silence doubts or fears. Mental toughness in running means believing in yourself and your ability to accomplish goals and dreams that have not yet become a reality.
While many athletes and coaches have slightly varying definitions of mental toughness, the idea and purpose of it remains consistent. All runners need to acquire mental toughness to a certain degree in order to improve in any capacity.
How do I increase my mental toughness in running?
While the steps for increasing physical strength and endurance are relatively straightforward, improving mental toughness is a little more obscure. The way in which athletes increase their mental strength will vary from one to the next.
However, every runner can benefit from practicing positive mental talk. Regardless of the situation and how close you might be to your goals, practice repeating positive affirmations, such as “I am strong” or “I can do hard things”. Another strategy is to visualize yourself accomplishing your goals. There are many ways in which you can increase your mental toughness.
9 Ways to Build Mental Toughness for Running
Regardless of physical ability, most runners are surprised to discover how drastically mental toughness can positively impact their running. While each runner is different, the following are a few strategies that can help improve mental toughness in running to accomplish and achieve your goals.
Practice positive self-talk
Believe it or not, what you tell yourself and think about yourself eventually becomes what you believe and do. If you’re consistently thinking that you can’t accomplish a goal or are not good enough, you’re unlikely to ever achieve it.
Rather than constantly worrying or doubting, practice believing in yourself. Tell yourself “you are strong” or “this is your year”. Even if you don’t believe it right away, say it enough and eventually you’ll begin to act like it.
Mental toughness for running is built by telling yourself positive things day in and day out, so even on the hardest runs, you’ll know what to say to overcome the obstacles.
Accept discomfort and fatigue
In order to become resilient enough to overcome doubts and worries, you need to accept that discomfort is part of the process. Accomplishing big goals isn’t going to come easy – and if it does, they probably weren’t big enough to begin with.
Accepting fatigue and discomfort means that you are no longer forced to dwell on them. Your mental capacity is opened up for more positivity, rather than being bogged down with focusing on difficulty.
Remember your “why”
Things get hard in running, both mentally and physically. While the difficult moments are inevitable, letting them control you is not.
Focusing on your “why” or the reason for starting is a great way to dig deep and keep moving forward when the going gets tough. Whether you’re running to regain health or spend some time alone without distraction, remembering why you started will help build mental toughness during those tough moments.
Visualize the outcome
In order to improve mental toughness in running, you’ll need to truly believe that you can accomplish your goals. Visualizing each goal and picturing what it will look like when you achieve will help your mind believe it.
Believing that the desired outcome is possible helps push through those tough moments, knowing that they will be worth it in the end.
Focus on the positives
When running, mental toughness doesn’t mean being unrealistic about the current situation, but rather, it means choosing to focus your mind on the positives.
If things are getting tough and it feels like everything is going against you, find the one thing that has gone right and focus on it. Maybe the weather is great, your outfit is perfect or your hips aren’t hurting this time. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is always something positive to be found.
Hyper-focus on the unimportant
Similar to focusing on the positives, when everything seems to be going wrong, focus on something unimportant to keep your mind distracted. If your entire body seems to be hurting, focus on the fact that your earlobes feel great.
Mental toughness in running means being able to control your mind and redirect when the focus or thoughts seem to keep returning to the negative. Powering through a difficult situation requires being able to either accept it, or find something to keep your mind distracted.
When working towards a specific goal, one failed workout might be enough to throw a mentally weak runner off their game. However, mentally tough runners know that flexibility is key to their success.
Stay flexible and resilient with your training and your mind will follow. If one workout didn’t go as planned, try again. When a long run was cut short, remember that those 4 miles aren’t going to matter on race day. Keep your mind flexible to help overcome obstacles and build mental toughness for running.
Consistency is key to improving mental toughness in running. Just as practice makes perfect, consistency will give you time to build and improve mental strength on the run. Getting out for a run on a regular basis not only keeps your muscles strong, but it keeps your mind strong as well.
In addition, regular running means that you’ll likely be running in conditions that aren’t always ideal. When things get a bit tough, you’ll gain the experience needed to continue to improve your mental toughness over time.
Get rid of excuses
Life isn’t always perfect, and neither is running. When the weather is crummy, you didn’t get as much sleep as you wanted, or you’re just feeling lazy – run anyways. These runs are the golden ticket to building mental toughness.
Mental toughness in running is key to success with any goal. Whether you’re just getting started or are working towards a first place finish, mental strength is just as important as physical strength.
Taking the time to get your mind in the right place will pay off physically as well. Without the ability to overcome adversity, running becomes stagnant. Focus on staying positive, accepting difficulty and believing in yourself – and before long, you’ll be living a reality that was once something you only could have imagined.