Building a strong body is the easy part of endurance running. Staying motivated, confident, and having the ability to trust your training is the hard part.
And much like logging miles on your feet, it is important to hone your mental strength as a runner.
There will be days that will be completely awful in both training and racing and the ability to persevere often makes the difference between winner/loser for the competitive runner or finisher/DNF for the recreational runner.
Managing the low spots wasn’t always necessary for me as a runner. I didn’t do any racing in my early twenties and ran simply because it was the exercise I was most familiar with.
If I had a difficult run, it was just an annoyance. I wasn’t pushing paces or times and I usually did the same 7-mile distance every other day.
However, when I started training for my first marathon, I experienced training runs that were both really fantastic and really tough.
How to handle dark moments
Many of my first long runs were on the treadmill because I craved the controlled environment that the treadmill gave me. Little did I know the ability to handle mental killer of running on the treadmill would later pay off.
Having the ability to keep your legs moving when your mind is telling you to quit is arguably one of the hardest parts of running. Handling those challenges during training runs and races has become easier for me as years of running has given me confidence.
I know and recognize that there will always be off training days and terrible races. But I also know that it can all change in just a couple of miles and suddenly it can become the best race ever.
‘There will be dark places’
I think one of the best things that ultrarunning has taught me is how to handle those dark places. Because in ultrarunning, there will be dark places. It is almost inevitable that there will be a rough patch (or five) and they can last for miles (or hours).
The goal is always to reduce those patches, but sometimes even the most prepared runner can experience things that cause their run to go south.
I often use my previous history to create a benchmark for what my body can handle. After completing my first marathon, I knew that I could handle a 20-mile training run.
After completing my first 50-miler, I knew I could handle many miles after my body was tired. After completing my first 100-miler, I knew that I could handle the darkest places of my mind and still continue to move forward.
I am no expert and (knock on wood) have been lucky to stave off injury over the years. But I do have a few key mental tricks that keep me going in addition to the self-assuredness my racing resume has given me.
‘Nothing ever lasts’
I first heard this phrase from the ultrarunner Lizzy Hawker. The knowledge that a negative moment is simply temporary is huge. Being able to understand that there will be relief at some point helps me continue to push to the end.
‘I get to’
Maybe my story is a little more personal as my husband is unable to run due to multiple sclerosis. But I am reminded how lucky I am each day that I’m healthy enough to cover long distances on my feet.
When I have a tough training run and everything seems so arduous, I remember that I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to run.
Knowing that pain is inevitable is important. Too often runners expect every run and every race to be perfect. It will be hard. It will hurt. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is trusting the accomplishment will outweigh the pain.
Most endurance runners have time goals and/or an idea of their pace going into races and training runs. The ability to adapt and regroup is incredibly important.
If you get easily frustrated and feel as though you should stop when things don’t go your way, tap into what you can do. Shake off what you cannot change and control what you can.
Capable and brave
I use this mantra in both training runs and races. It can change my mindset if I am able to remember that my body is capable and my mind is brave.
Confidence in my ability is often forgotten when it starts to get tough. A short, repeatable phrase to boost my ego is often the spark I need.
The best part of mental endurance training is how it translates to the rest of your life. As soon as you can master getting through running when you are tired, sore, sad, frustrated, or just downright exhausted, the more you can handle your everyday stress.
Knowing that you can balance those highs and lows with a positive attitude and confidence in yourself will pay off.
What are your tips to build mental toughness? How do you manage the rough patches in a race or training run?