/ / How to Build Mental Toughness – 6 Ways Runners Build Mental Strength

How to Build Mental Toughness – 6 Ways Runners Build Mental Strength

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If you’re a long distance runner, you probably know that running is just as much mental as it is physical, if not more. It doesn’t matter which distance you’re training for or how experienced you are with this sport, all runners benefit from practicing, building, and sharpening their mental toughness skills. But how does a runner build mental toughness?

One of the many great things about running is that the strength we build and the lessons we learn from it are applicable to other areas of our lives. The stronger your mentality becomes from running, the stronger your mentality is in day-to-day life! Below are six strategies on how to build your mental toughness.

A person is running down a wet road in the dark. The sun is setting.

6 Ways Runners Build Mental Toughness:

1. Visualize Your Goals

If you see it and believe it, you can achieve it! Before starting a workout or race, visualize yourself accomplishing your goals. For instance, picture what you look like, imagine how you’re feeling, and recite what you’re thinking in that moment. When you start to hurt or fatigue during a run, think back to these thoughts.

  • Is your goal to cross the finish line smiling? Picture yourself smiling for the photographers and spectators.
  • Are you working towards a Boston Qualifier? Imagine wearing a shirt that states “Boston Marathon Qualifier”.
  • Do you want to negative split? Envision yourself holding back the first half of the race and pushing hard the second half.

Visualizing your goals is also one strategy to use when motivating yourself to run, which can be difficult! Read more about 7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Run.

2. Leave Your Comfort Zone

Next, it’s possible you are falling into a routine with one or more aspects of your training. If this is true, push yourself to change things up! Yes, this is uncomfortable and may make us nervous or scared but remember: we grow when we step outside our comfort zone. Pushing ourselves can look differently from one runner to another. For you it may be:

  • Running in the rain, cold, and wind if you are a fair-weather runner. (For more weather related posts, here are 9 Tips for Cold Weather Running and Running in the Heat – How to Make it More Bearable and Fun)
  • Changing up your route. Don’t get too comfortable running the same loop everyday.
  • Leaving your headphones at home. If you rely on fast-paced music to complete workouts, run without music.
  • Adding hills to your training runs. Hills are your friend and will help boost your confidence!
  • Running solo if training with friends is the only way to get you out the door.

First, start with something small, like one of the examples above, and continue to practice it over time. Then, change up a second aspect of your training. Instead of changing multiple things at once, make small adjustments and tweaks; this will make your growth more sustainable and long-lasting.

A woman is running in an open field by herself. The sky is dark and cloud. She is wearing a red hat, green jacket, black leggings, and a red backpack.

3. Practice Positive Self Talk and Recite Mantras

You are your biggest cheerleader. If you’re running a race, there could be thousands of people cheering you on from the sidelines. However, what you say to yourself internally is what you will listen to the most. Without a doubt, keep your thoughts positive!

It can be very easy to talk ourselves out of completing a hard effort workout or holding a challenging pace during a race. We start settling and negotiating with ourselves and think, “It’s okay if you slow down, you’ve had a really strong run up until this point” or “I can’t hold this pace anymore, my legs hurt too much“. This is where mantras (a syllable, word, or phrase) come into play. Some examples of mantras are:

  • “You’re tougher than this hill”
  • “Yes, you can”
  • “Dig deep”
  • “You have what it takes”
  • “Pain is temporary, pride is forever”

Mantras, phrases, and quotes will resonate differently with people. Most importantly, find what works for you by asking yourself these questions after accomplishing a hard workout or race:

  • Why was that run so successful?
  • What was my mentality like?
  • How was I speaking to myself?
  • What was I saying or thinking about?

4. Remember your “Why”

We all run for different reasons. Think about what gets you laced up and out the door. Are you running in memory of a loved one? Setting an example of a healthy lifestyle for your children? Does running bring you clarity and help with stress management? When training gets tough, referring back to your “why” can be very helpful.

Personally, my “why” is running for my brother, Robert. I ran my first marathon (the Leadville Trail Marathon) in his memory and have been running for him ever since.

A woman is walking down a path with her hands above her head. She looks like she is tightening her ponytail. She is walking away from the camera. The sun is setting and she is wearing a red jacket, black leggings, and orange sneakers. The woman is adjusting her mindset, which is one way on how to build mental toughness.

5. Distract Yourself when Things get Tough

Undoubtedly, there will be a point during a hard workout or race when you’re tired and want to slow down, walk, or give up. Take your mind off how tired you feel and play a mental game with yourself. My coach always tells me, “Get out of your head!” and these mental games help me do just that.

  • Find an object in the distance and focus on running to it. This could be a tree, street sign, or a mile marker in a race. When you reach this object, find another one ahead of you and repeat this process.
  • Run to the beat of your music. Listen to fast-paced music during hard runs? Focus on keeping your pace and running to the rhythm of the song.
  • Stick with another runner or find one in the distance to catch. If you are in sync with another runner, use them to help you. Tell yourself to stick with them or find someone ahead of you and focus on slowly closing in on distance.
  • Smile. Because running is fun!

6. Develop a Growth Mindset

Lastly, the reality of running (and life) is that not everything will go according to plan. You will have some training runs and races that flop – it happens to all of us. In these instances, it’s important to view your challenges and struggles as opportunities to learn and grow. Instead of leaving the track or race ruminating on what went wrong, change your thinking, ask yourself what you can learn and how you can apply it for next time, and most importantly, stay positive.

For example, shifting a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can look like:

  • “I can’t run this pace” –> “I’m getting stronger to run new and faster paces”
  • “This workout is too hard” –> “With more practice this will get easier”
  • “I always give up when I get tired” –> “I will continue to work hard and push myself”

Recap of How to Build Mental Toughness for Runners:

In conclusion, building and sharpening our mental toughness is key for our success. Moreover, it’s a skill runners can continue to evolve over time and master even further. Here are six ways runners build mental toughness:

  • Visualize your goals
  • Leave your comfort zone
  • Practice positive self talk and recite mantras
  • Remember your “why”
  • Distract yourself when things get tough
  • Develop a growth mindset

5 Principles of Becoming a Stronger Runner:

  1. Build your mental toughness
  2. Focus on rest and recovery
  3. Train properly
  4. Fuel your running
  5. Strength train

Eager to become a faster and stronger runner? I would love to help you reach your running goals! Email me at [email protected] or check out my Run Coaching Services page to learn more.

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