Mental Toughness Running

Photo Credit: NBC

Mental Toughness is the fuel of a personal best

All personal bests from running your first 5k to setting a world record require mental strength—a lot of it.  It seems like everyone has a theory these days about how to become mentally tough.  Mental toughness models abound.

The major challenge in the mental toughness literature is this: like physical training, one size does not fit all in mental preparation training. We all have different mental toughness needs.

You have to find out what works best for you as an individual in the mental toughness realm, not what works best for the latest champion in a magazine.  

Mental toughness is your fuel to a personal best. The mental toughness gas tank must be full before you set out to break a PR or run your version of a championship race.  Mental toughness is also one key to reaching your God-given potential.  It is that important.

Find what works for you

I can go on and on and tell you about what I did or what my athletes did to prepare for their toughest races. However, the problem with this approach is that my suggestions may not work for you. Each person has to find their own “mental triggers” that send them to the top of their performance zone.

Said another way, what works for one runner may not work for another runner. The best I can do for you is to help you begin to see for yourself what mental toughness strategies work best for you.

You can’t delegate mental toughness to someone else nor can someone else make you mentally tough. It’s up to you to take the bull by the horns on this one.

Getting to the root of your own mental toughness soft points will help you win the mental tenacity game—and run a PR. 

Let’s get started. Here are some questions to ask yourself about your current level of mental toughness:

Have I put in the necessary work to run a PR? Do I deserve to win?

If the answer is yes, you are more than halfway to your goal. Those great workouts were no fluke. You are ready to roll. Believe it. You did the work. The hay is in the barn. You’re ready.

If the answer is no, regroup and put in the necessary work to blow your PR out of the water. Don’t expect to run a PR without giving it everything you’ve got in training. Train hard but also train smart by following sound training progression principles.

Am I ready for the normal race pain ahead?

Accept that your next race is really going to hurt. You are on the right track if you do.  Brace for the pain ahead, don’t deny it. Running through the normal pain (normal pain does not include a muscle pull or any other serious injury! Stop immediately if an injury occurs!) of a race is mission-critical to your success. 

In every race, there comes a point when you have to make a decision to push through the pain. No one has ever run a PR without pushing through pain. Normal running pain is part of the deal. There are no exceptions to this rule.

If the answer is no to the question above, read the latest scientific research on why it’s important to acknowledge and accept that significant pain is part of running any personal best.  

Even world-class runners at times forget that they need to brace for the pain of a race. I’ve never known an athlete in all my years of coaching who ran great without pushing through their personal pain barrier.

Have I thought about what really works for you when you were successful in pushing through pain barriers in the past?

As a Christian, I prayed for strength to break through the pain barrier during tough workouts or races. This is how I prepared to push through the normal pain of a race.

I also reminded myself that the pain is basically the same whether I run full out or just give 90%. I then decided to give 100%. " The pain is the same” is the rhyme that played in my head when pushing through a tough workout or race.

Lastly, one of my mental triggers was to compete against the best in the USA national championships and other major running events. This drove me mentally for years. Find a compelling mental trigger that is important to you. You need strong leverage to move mountains in life.

When you lack the motivation to push through the pain, reflect on the "why" behind your running.

If you have not been successful in pushing through the pain of a race, take an honest look at why this is happening to you. Are you afraid you’ll get injured? Did you have a bad race experience that you have to let go of? Have you failed to do the physical work to do your best?

Ask a professional coach or someone you trust for their observations if you are still stumped.

How will I feel at the end of the race if I don’t give it my all?

You know the answer to this question. Remember your answer during the toughest parts of the race. Never lose sight of the answer to this question.

The answer is always the same. No one wants to leave any regrets on the road. Therefore, leave nothing at the finish line of your goals and dreams in your next race.

Have you identified a “go-to-phrase "that helps you get through the tough patches of a race?

Listen to what Matt Centrowitz said to himself when he was 20 meters away from a Gold medal in the 1500 meters in the 2016 Olympics: “My legs felt great until the last 20 meters until it felt like I was buckling a little bit. I was like, Come on, man, you’re right there.”

I have my own go-to phrase when things get tough. Find a go-to phrase that works for you. Words of self-encouragement work wonders.

Watch Matt Centrowitz live his “go-to phrase” in action in the 2016 Olympic 1500-meter final if you have time here:

The video may inspire you to come up with your own go-to-phrase phrase that pushes you to new heights.

In summary, find your own mental toughness road map for success. Use what you learn to run faster than you’ve ever imagined. Leave nothing at the finish line of your goals and dreams this season!


Coach Weber

Copyright 2021 Larry Weber