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Mental Toughness in Runners

February 20, 2019

You hear the starting horn and you fly off the starting line. You’re feeling great and you charge ahead. You hit the mid-race and it’s tough but you can feel you have plenty of gas in the tank so you push on through. Nearing the end now. Time to kick it in. You have a strong finish clocking in at 18:20.

grind the sense of fairness out of your psyche

Another day, another race. Starting horn goes off and you force your sluggish legs to get moving. You feel heavy and it takes will power to get up to your pace. You get to the mid-race and everything is burning. Your legs, your throat, your lungs. You wonder if you can keep up the pace but that kid won’t get off your back so you dig deeper and keep going. Finally, the finish line is in sight. You give it everything you got. You know you’re going to be having a hard time getting out of bed tomorrow at this point. You’re done. Clocked in at 18:20.

What happened? What’s the difference between these two scenarios? Your body sent you very different signals in the second trace than it did in the first, but you still achieved the same result. How is that possible? The reason is that running is not simply what your body is capable of. Your body will send you all kinds of false signals to get you to quit. When it comes to running fast, your mind has to be tough to consistently.

Mental toughness is the ability to face a disadvantage (particularly one that sends you into a downward spiral), push through it, and come out on top. The key is the facing the downward spiral. If you’re not feeling great in a race the temptation is to pace yourself a little slower because if you go harder, it will cause you to feel even worse. It takes mental toughness to overcome the logic your body has taught you and bend your body to your will.

In order to run fast consistently, you must train in mental toughness. One easy way to do this is to introduce random punishments into your workouts. Let’s say you’re doing 400m repeats with a buddy. The loser on each repeat has to do 10 pushups. If you’re the loser, in this case, you will become mentally tough through this exercise. You have to grind the sense of fairness out of your psyche. There’s just you, what you have right now, and the challenge ahead. Develop your mental toughness, and you’ll realize the only bad races are the ones you fail to subdue in your mind.


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