Running 101: Building Mental Toughness

We’ve all heard it before. It’s 90% mental, 10% physical. Or something to that extent. The point is, running is a HUGE mental game. Some days I’m really good at it and some days I’m just not. In the same way that you’re building mileage or adding weight to that bar, mental toughness is something that develops over time and requires work. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wish they liked running more and I really, truly believe building your mental toughness is a big step toward LOVING RUNNING. Cause folks…it’s the best!

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Here are 5 tips to help you out:

1) Take it in Stride (see what I did there?)

But seriously though. If I’m on a run and I really want to stop, I’ll break down my workout into smaller, more manageable pieces. So rather than think “I still have 7 of 8 miles left” I try to think more along the lines of “Just make it through this next song”, “1 more mile until I’m half way done. Then I just do what I already did one more time”, “Just run to that tree….ok good. Now make it to that lamp-post. Awesome! When you get to that blue car you can think about stopping…psych! No stopping! Now run to that street sign”. So I try to play mind games on myself…so what?! The point is I am putting my run into smaller pieces that I know I can definitely handle and then making myself keep achieving each little one. Before I know it, the workout is over.

2) Find a Mantra

This may sound silly but it really does work for me. Here are some sample mantras that I’ve used in the past (the way I say it is set to the pace of my running).

“You can do it! You can do it!”

“90% mental, 10% physical”

“The mind is stronger than the boodddddyyyy” (yeah body is dragged out like that in my rhythm)

“Just keep running. Just keep running”

“You are strong! You are powerful!”

“Go Alyssa Go!” (yeah, sometimes I’m my own cheerleader. which leads me to my next tip)

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3) Pep Talk Yourself

I’m dead serious. If you don’t believe you can do something, guess what? You’re right. So when you’re starting to feel low on gas and you need some encouragement, give yourself a pep talk! I really do believe that there is so much power in positive thinking. You’ll go so much further not only in your workouts, but in life!, if you have a positive attitude.

Your pep talk might go something like this “Come on, Alyssa! You’ve got this! You are a runner. Some people are still in bed, sleeping, but no, you are out here, running. You’re enjoying this beautiful morning, in the nice crispy morning air in this amazing valley that you live in. You are so lucky! Come on, Alyssa! Let’s go!”

4) Rest Days

Please don’t feel that in order to be a legit runner, you need to be running miles and miles every day. This is false. In fact, you should have at least one or two (or however many you need that week!!) rest days every week. It’s HEALTHY!!! It’s good for your body to recover and it’s good for your sanity. Otherwise, you’ll risk burn out and end up hating running. That just breaks my little heart.

5) Just Don’t Do It

If you want to stop, don’t. If you need to slow down, fine but don’t stop. If you know in your heart that you could do this without slowing down, don’t slow down either. No matter how you’re feeling (unless you are pushing yourself to an unhealthy extent. please don’t do that) YOU ARE ULTIMATELY IN CHARGE OF YOUR BODY! So no matter what you think it’s telling you, your body is actually a heck of a lot stronger than you think it is. The body is actually kind of a wuss. So instead listen to mister brain that says “No way! You can keep going. Body is a liar! A weak liar!” Then you’ll become stronger and no matter when you face your mental toughness breakdown, whether on a training run or during a race, you’ll be able to conquer it, because you already have in the past.

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Once you’re able to take charge of your mind, you’ll be able to turn just about any tough run into at least a better, if not a fantastic run. Remember, some days are just hard. Some days, running is going to not feel so fun. But those days are few and far between and they’re great opportunities to practice your mental toughness. You can do it! You’ve got this 🙂

What do you do to work on your mental toughness?

What do you do on days that are mentally, really difficult runs?

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20 thoughts on “Running 101: Building Mental Toughness

  1. I feel like I’m just turning the corner as the mental part of marathon training has been the hardest part. But it’s getting better. Yesterday I did a long distance midweek run and it was probably the best run in training. I did promise myself one walk break at the 2 mile to go mark -because that’s where the trail gets hard.

    The mental part is the hardest and I’ve done all the things above just like you.

  2. This is true stuff. I trained for my first marathon last year and in the process convinced my mind I was capable of such a thing. Last week I ran a half marathon, my first race since the marathon, and during my less than stellar training, I realized that just like your body weakens if you don’t run for awhile, your mind does too. I realized that when I run consistently my mind is stronger than when I don’t run at all. That’s why I run, to learn mental control. It’s just cool seeing how much power the mind has. Great post, Alyssa!

  3. love this post!!
    Right now, my mantra is what my nutritionist and I came up with… and that is “Get Strong, Get Powerful”. I say that in workouts and I say that when I am eating!!!

  4. I recently ran a 25k race (I was undertrained, but I finished). About a week later, I was struggling through a 4 mile run, and I realized it HAD to be in my head, because I knew what I was really capable of. Eye-opening, for sure. Love the idea of having a mantra.

    • I have that happen too, where a shorter run will seem hard but I know there’s no way it’s physically hard because I know I can run much farther. Crazy how powerful the mind is!

  5. I actually think the opposite… I think the mind is a wuss and the body is stronger than we give it credit for. I think my mind always cracks before my body does. My favorite mantra is “you haven’t died yet, don’t let today be that day.” I also remind myself that my body has carried me through a half marathon, so when I feel like I’m dying during a 3-mile run, my body has to remind my brain that it does this all the time and that I can do it again. I definitely think the majority of the time I want to quit is not because my body is hurting, but because my brain is hurting.

  6. I’ve run as long as I can remember. As I kid I played soccer, running during the game, and running to train. During my mission I ran to get some solo time, and from college on, I’ve run weekly mostly as a way to stay active in an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. My normal run is 5 miles (varying between 6mm to 9mm pace, depending on the day), 5 days a week, and I periodically throw in a trail run to shake things up (anywhere from 5-10 miles). So I’d say that over the course of my life, I’ve logged well over 50,000 miles.

    And I’ve hated every step. Every single step is a burden. Every mile is a burden, every finished run is a relief. I find absolutely no joy in the preparation, the running, or the finishing. So with that background, I can vouch for your strategies. For some, they could turn the experience into an enjoyable one, but for others, like me, it’s the difference between getting out and not getting out.

    In case you’re wondering why I run when I hate it so much, it’s truly laziness. I need to exercise the machine, and there’s no easier way to do it. Any other form of exercise that I actually enjoy (mt. biking, playing soccer, etc) requires me gearing up, getting myself somewhere, and spending more time than running. With running, I lace up my shoes at 530 am, and by 6:00 or 6:20 I’m done with my workout for the day. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

    • Thanks for your comments, Tio Andy. I totally respect you for being so dedicated to keep your body healthy. I know that if I didn’t enjoy running there’s no way I would use it for my form of exercise! You’re awesome.

  7. Great tips! I always break down runs into smaller, doable pieces when my mind is trying to quit “You can do anything for 5 more minutes”, “Just get to that tree” “Just get to an even number stopping point” (hey, it works!).

  8. I think too many running blogs I read seem too concerned about rest days. Like, they apologize if they didn’t go running that day. I think taking a day off, heck, even 2 or 3 days off, is necessary sometimes. But, maybe I’d feeling differently if I was actually a fast runner. I don’t know. #1 is so important too! Taking the run in small steps really helps me a lot.

  9. I do LOVE the “Just don’t do it” part of this post.
    My mantra would probably be: “Your BODY is stronger than your mind.” Sometimes my mind is my biggest enemy.
    Great post! 🙂

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