Mental Toughness for Runners

Mental toughness for runners is one of the most prized mental skills we can develop. With proper techniques and practice, the mental aspects of the sport can elevate your running to new heights.

Runners spend the majority, if not all, of their training on physical attributes: getting faster, building strength, recovery, injury prevention, and becoming more athletic. And these are absolutely crucial to your progress so don’t stop!

But too many runners ignore the psychological aspect of running, which determines how you engage with the sport. Mentally tough runners understand that this is just as important as physical training.

Mental strength may not seem very important to your development as an athlete. But there are numerous situations where this skill becomes increasingly important:

  • Standing at the start line of your goal race, anticipating the distance ahead
  • Missing a few workouts and feeling like you might as well skip today’s training too
  • The point at which you want to quit during a hard workout or long run
  • Dealing with setbacks from a running injury
  • Getting frustrated with performance plateau and a lack of improvement
  • Setting short, medium, and long-term goals

And so many more – just consider, what was the last time you felt uneasy about your running?

Mental strength is the intangible, invisible power that will get you through all those situations and keep you pushing, thriving, and excelling toward your biggest goals.

What is “mental toughness”, anyway? Perhaps you’ve heard of it referred to as mindset mastery or mental strength. All those terms encompass the same definition:

The psychological skill set that allows runners to work sustainably toward a long-term goal despite setbacks.

So being mentally tough enables runners to consistently make strides towards their desired outcome, no matter what comes their way. Hey, that’s pretty cool! That’s not something that any piece of gear, training plan, or even coach can give you. It’s a gift that you can develop for yourself.

For runners, mental toughness comes into play in many areas. Our progress and training is rarely linear. Our life isn’t either – there are phases where we have less or more time to commit to training, higher and lower drives for new running accomplishments. Mental strength permeates all seasons and is truly a lifelong skill to practice.

5 Key Parts of Mindset Mastery

focus in a race

Mindset mastery comes from the ability to control what you can, and let go of the rest. The aspects that you truly control are internal such as your reactions and mental models.

These 5 parts are the building blocks of mental toughness for runners:

  1. Focus – setting goals and executing the process 
  2. Anxiety Management – utilizing an inner “pep talk” to lower anxiety
  3. Intensity – modulating mental energy through mantras, visualization, and other techniques
  4. Mental Toughness – staying positive and performing at your peak
  5. Confidence – developing self-belief through demonstrated success

Many athletes have developed strategies to deal with the demands of their sports but may not realize that they are, in fact, working on their mental strength. You may have practice with a few of these already. Or you may feel like you’ve spent all your energy on the physical aspects rather than the mental ones.

Mental toughness can be learned. With proper tools and lots of practice, you can be well on your way to mindset mastery.

What You Tell Yourself Matters

You’ll notice that mental toughness focuses on the internal rather than external. It’s how you relate to stressful situations, conquer them (or not), and continue moving forward.

How fast you run isn’t a direct result of your mental strength, but it’s directly impacted. Here are a few other outcomes of mental toughness for runners:

  • Keeping your cool and managing anxiety before a big race
  • Finishing a hard workout confidently with all that you’ve got
  • Embracing the down times of a training cycle when you’re focusing on rest and recovery
  • Trusting yourself to show up every time, no matter how you feel
  • Believing in your abilities to kick hard and finish strong at the end of a race

A runner can easily undermine their own mental strength with negative self-talk. Have you ever said anything like this to yourself?

  • “I failed at this before and will again…”
  • “Who am I to go after this big goal?”
  • “I can’t do this, I’m going to slow down.”

The chatter in your head matters. It can propel you forward or set you back.

A lot of the tools we use are based on mantras for running (these are also known as personal affirmations). These are the things you tell yourself to keep focused and confident. for yourself!

Modeling is a performance psychology term that helps you copy the behaviors, posture, attitudes, and language of top performers.

You can also listen directly to the guidance of elite runners:

If you’re going to learn sport psychology, then why not learn from the best?

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