During my last training cycle, I learned a very valuable lesson. Mental strength is vital for success. During my first cycle of training for a BQ, I was so incredibly focused. I wanted it so bad I could taste it and even on the hard runs I was able to grit my teeth and make it happen.
Fast forward another several months, and training for Chicago didn’t quite go the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I also wanted my goal pretty badly but for some reason I was lacking a lot of the mental strength to get the job done. I quit more workouts that I ever have before, and I had an extremely difficult time getting myself out of bed each morning.
The truth is, mental strength can be a challenge. It isn’t something that just always happens; in fact many times you have to make an effort to work on increase your mental strength.
I recently read the book How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald. It’s an incredibly interesting and motivating book and if you are struggling with your mental strength I highly suggest reading it! Matt himself is a well-respected coach, sports nutritionist, and has written several books. It’s a quick and easy read and perfect right before a new training cycle or race.
As Fitzgerald states himself, “Rarely do champion endurance athletes credit their physical capacity for their success. More often, they insist that their advantage lies not in having more to give but rather in being able to give more of what they have.”
You’ve probably heard the term “run with your heart” which in many ways is talking about mental strength. The simple will to run even when things feel like they are falling apart.
I’ve been thinking about mental strength a lot recently. I’ve been trying to practice increasing my strength and here are a few keys that I’ve learned.
Accept the Pain
Running and racing is painful. If you are pushing yourself, then there really isn’t any way around it. Even on our best races, there is still a time where it hurts. We too often go into races or hard workouts in fear of the pain that lies ahead.
Instead of fearing it, try to accept it. Accept in your mind that it is coming and be okay with that. I’ve really been trying to focus on being okay with the pain that’s to come. It also helps you to not panic quite as much when you start feeling it set in.
Learn to Let Go
We all have goals. That doesn’t guarantee we will reach them this time, or even next. Every race isn’t going to PR and some training seasons aren’t going to go as planned. That’s a part of this crazy ride.
If you learn to let the bad days, the bad runs, the bad races slide off of you and re-focus them it will all become much more enjoyable. At the end of the day, very few of us are going to be elite athletes. Running is our hobby. If you start putting too much pressure on your performances, you will often begin to lose the joy. Having joy in this journey is essential to mental strength.
Train in Discomfort
Practice makes perfect right? If you train your body to handle discomfort during training it will make race day a bit easier for you. This doesn’t mean go out and hammer speed work every day, but you want to have at least 1-2 days a week where you practice being uncomfortable.
There are moments during my races where I have thought back on some of my toughest workouts for motivation to know that I can take the pain and I can keep pushing. These workouts not only increase your physical strength, but your mental strength as well.
Stay in the Moment
As mentioned, it is important to accept that the pain is coming, but it is also important to focus on one mile, one run, and one long stretch at a time. Mental strength often comes from learning mind games that help you get through even the toughest runs.
On the treadmill I break the run up into 6 minute breaks, and I take a drink after each. This gives me small goals to get to and helps to break up the time. If you think ahead at the 10-12 miles that are to come at mile 1, it is going to make it a lot harder to be mentally strong.
Mental strength takes practice, just like running does. It is something that comes over night, but it does come! We all have moments of weakness, as I did during my Chicago training, but making it a priority is slowing making a big difference!
How do you work on your mental strength?