Mental Toughness

I was listening to a podcast on my run this morning from Trail Runner Nation on Mental toughness.  It got me thinking a bit…. this is one of the aspects of running that I’m actually pretty good at, and it spurred me to think about why.  I also had a huge compliment this week when a friend said that she often thinks of me when she’s pushing through a hard workout.

The podcast was an interview with Lanny Bassham, who was a US Olympic gold medalist in sports shooting.  Most of what he discussed are great techniques for being successful in any or all areas of your life.  Here are some keys that I took away, and that I think I use in my life.

  1. Think of the positives in things, even when you encounter adversity or when things don’t go your way.  I’ve had a philosophy that I try to live my life by for a long time, and it is “no regrets”.  Pretty simple, but it’s actually hard to live out.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or do stupid things, but it’s that I try to shape my reaction to those mistakes as not regretting my actions, but learning from them.  Lanny had a pretty similar philosophy in regards to sport.  That you shouldn’t look at a failure, or a bad performance as a failure, or something that happened to you, but as an opportunity.  Last summer I had a mentally tough race in the Seawheeze half and I learned from it, that negative self talk during a race is destructive, and ruins the race, both in enjoyment and performance.
  2. Lanny also talked about setting goals, and using rehearsal as a tool.  There is great value in visioning success and a good day.  Lori and I talked about this also before the Calgary Marathon.  She gets really nervous before big goal races, and had read somewhere that you should take any negative nervousness and rephrase it as anticipation or excitement.  We have a lot more power over our minds than we even imagine, and I really think that we can choose how to focus our mental energy.  Do we let ourselves lose sleep and be nervous over something, or do we harness that energy as anticipation and use it on race day to perform our best?
  3. How can we use these insights to better guide and coach our children?  This was really interesting to me because I’ve got young children and am just starting to embark on the journey of being a parent to kids in sport.  Lanny emphasized that we shouldn’t focus on how our children did, how many goals, or how they competed, but ask them what they did right, get them to focus on the positive first.  This sounds like something that might be hard to practice in real life, especially when your husband is a big sports fan.  I’m hoping that we can make sport and competition a positive experience for our girls, and that it helps build up their confidence.
  4. Speaking of confidence, it is a great trait to have confidence in sport and in life.  I am a fairly self confident person, but I was reflecting a bit, and don’t think I’ve always been this self confident.  I was a very shy and quiet teenager, and probably lacked self confidence.  I have noticed that in many areas of my life belief in my ability to do something often is a precursor to actually being able to do that thing.  Running and sport is no different.  It’s good to believe that you’re going to succeed before you actually have the skills to do so.  Be confident, perhaps airing slightly on the side of arrogance 🙂  And if you’re not confident, then just fake it, honestly 99% of the time I’m not nearly as confident as I seem, I’m just good at faking it, and that’s nearly as good as actually being confident!
  5. Be a problem solver.  In my professional life I’m a great problem solver.  It’s part of the skill that is required for my job, and I really enjoy it.  I think this skill also carries over to running.  It means that I’m good at thinking on my feet (literally!) and reacting to dilemmas.  For example,  I don’t normally use fuel like gels or gu during a half marathon, but during last year’s Seawheeze half, I was feeling low on energy, and had a gel with me.  I was able to adapt from my normal strategy and take a gel mid way through the race.  It didn’t turn the race around into a fantastic race, but I think it helped a lot, and it also made me realize that I need to be adaptable mid race, and NOT always stick to a strategy if it’s not working.

732726-1039-0050sWhat tricks do you use when the going gets tough in a run or race??



5 thoughts on “Mental Toughness

  1. Like everything else, mental toughness takes practice. Now I look forward to workouts when it’s windy, rainy, cold, hot, whatever. By pushing through in training, you make it easier to push through in a tough race. I’ll go through a mental checklist, looking for things I can fix right now (it takes only a second to get a stone out of a shoe or straighten a twisted sock), things that can be fixed soon (the next aid station is in a few minutes), and things that we have to tough through (nothing to be done about that blister till the race is over.)

  2. I needed to hear this. I have good runs with the mental toughness and bad spells, and with the heat and humidity I am in a weak spell. I realized reading this I expect to give up, I am going to have to dig deeep and try to block that when it creeps in. Great thoughts 🙂

  3. Pingback: Link Love: 10/4 - Cowgirl Runs

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