Building Mental Toughness for Running. Ditch the Negative Mindset.
Boston Marathon training has reached its peak and the taper has begun but my body is feeling exhausted from all of the miles and the mental part of training. It’s Sunday morning, the day after 8 more inches of snow on April 1st. One more long wintry run. 16 miles to bring me steps closer to the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriot’s Day. My alarm goes off and I hit snooze several times not wanting to leave the warm hibernation in my bed. Finally I pull myself out of bed. Layer up for another cold run. Shovel in some breakfast and feed my always hungry children. They cling to my arms as I strap on my hydration pack and tell them I must head out the door. Finally blowing kisses as I head out the door, the crunch of snow under my feet. I press start on my Garmin and begin to run. I know from the start this will be a challenging run. I feel the 20 miles from last weekends Eastern States 20 Miler where my legs felt light and swift. My shoulders and back feel tight from swimming hard laps and laps with a pull buoy. I am greeted with a small hill within two minutes of the run and I can already hear the negative voice in my head.
Not a great way to start a run. I try to quiet the voice but it is sticking with me and the miles are feeling long. I know I have got to get this run done. 10 miles to be run at 9 min/mile pace with the last 10 at marathon pace 8:10-8:20 (or faster). I cringe at the thought of this knowing that on my out and back run I will encounter rolling hills and the last long (almost a mile) training hill as I creep towards home. I know this run is important because it is on this run that more than the physical I am training my mental toughness. I need to use this run to build strategies and find mantras and music in my head to fight the negativity that most certainly will visit me during 26.2 miles of running on marathon Monday.
Let’s be real. Every time you go for a run it isn’t going to be the best run you have ever had. Sometimes your body and mind are fatigued from a challenging training load. It can be the everyday stress of life that gets in the way. Or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep . . . the list goes on. When you aren’t feeling up to your best running self and almost every step feels hard negativity can creep in and take over your run. If you allow the negative mindset to creep in it is very easy to let it win. This can happen on a training day and even worse on race day.
Don’t let the negative mindset win out! One big part of training for a race is developing your mental strength so that you can stay positive or so that you can talk yourself out of the negativity. As a part of your training you can gather “tools” to help yourself avoid negativity or to teach yourself to use a negative attitude to fight back when things aren’t going your way.
Strategies for Escaping a Negative Mindset
- Practice visualization before you go for a run. Take 10 minutes to run through the race course in your head. Get to know the race course so that you can talk yourself through the hills and challenging spots. Imagine yourself running with strong running form and a relaxed body.
- Choose some mantras prior to your training run or race that you can repeat to yourself when things get hard. Here are some of my favorite mantras as of late,
“Give yourself permission to work hard. It’s ok for it to hurt.”
“One step at a time. Just keep moving forward.”
“I can conquer _________ hill so I know I can beat this one.”
“You must finish it. No matter what.”
“You will feel stronger and proud when you finish this.”
“You WANT your goal. Now go for it!”
- Music can make the miles easier. Sometimes it is not a mantra but a song that pumps me up that you can think about. Running through the lyrics in my head can take your mind off of the struggle.
- Focus on something other than how heavy your legs feel or how slow your pace feels. Instead, focus on your breathing or the sound of each foot strike as this can be meditative.
- Set mini-goals for yourself during the run–For example you can allow yourself to have a slower pace for a half mile and then challenge yourself to pick it up, or choose landmarks as points to run to with a faster pace.
- Flip your watch over. Sometimes when you ditch looking at your splits it takes the pressure off and your body is better able to naturally hit the pace. Only check your splits when your watch beeps at each mile marker.
Keep on running!
So how did my 16 miler end up? I finished it. I fought for each step and battled the negative mindset as I ran. But in the end even though this wasn’t my fastest or best run I call this run a win. I won out against my negativity. I didn’t quit but instead fought to keep my paces on track. I reminded myself of the strength within my body from all of the miles of training. I check this run off in the win category for mental toughness and will carry this with me to the Boston Marathon.
This was probably one of the most important runs of my whole training cycle.
For more on building mental toughness here are some articles you may want to check out. I love how in her article, “Working on Mental Toughness,” Angela from Happy Fit Mama talks about using visualization to help get out of a negative mindset as this has always been a great strategy for me. And have you ever used the strategy of “Fishing,” Carly from A Fine Fit Day talks about this technique in her post, “5 Mental Running Tips to Help You Through a Tough Run.” Fishing is when you focus on a runner ahead of you and you imagine reeling them in! This is a fun strategy to take your mind off of anything negative that might be happening during your race. And if you are into Podcasts, Women’s Running has 3 suggestions for podcasts that you should listen to to help you work on mental strength, “These Are The 3 Best Podcasts For Building Mental Strength,” from my friend Allie who blogs at Vita Train 4 Life.
How do you build mental toughness?