Brain Training – AKA Mental Toughness

Being mentally tough counts for a lot – a LOT – when you’re facing down a hard workout or race. I’d go so far as to say it’s at least equally as important as physical ability, because no matter how many repeats you’ve run, or how many miles you’ve logged, if your brain takes over and starts feeding you negative thoughts, things can very quickly go downhill.

I was reminded of the importance of this during my run yesterday. I planned to go 7 miles, with 4 at tempo pace. Three and a half miles in, I hit a wall of wind, and it was pretty constant for the remainder of the run.

Trying to hit tempo paces when running into a steady headwind (with a few uphill climbs, as well) makes a challenging effort feel nearly impossible, and there were more than a few times that I wanted to quit.

But instead, I ran 8 miles, with 5 at tempo pace. The tempo pace wasn’t as fast as I would have liked, but I didn’t quit, and I didn’t let up – I ran harder than ever, and at the same time as I was hating it, I was also kind of secretly enjoying it. There’s definitely some pleasure to be gotten out of knowing you’re rising to the challenge rather than throwing in the towel.

Mental-Toughness-520That’s why an essential part of any training program is to train your brain, and flex your mental muscle. Tax it with tough workouts – when things aren’t going well, don’t back off – push through it and work harder.

And as you’re pushing through the tough spots, and the doubts try to creep in, figure out what you need to do to put up a roadblock to keep them out.

When the going gets tough, I call to mind past performances – either on training runs or in races – where I kicked ass and got it done. I remember how proud and accomplished I felt.

When I feel like I can’t take another step, I remember how rotten I’ll feel if I give up.

When I’m feeling like I’m giving it absolutely everything I’ve got, and I can’t possibly keep it going at that level for any longer, I remember that I’ve felt that way before, and every time, I dug a little deeper and found that I did in fact have a little more to give.

When I think the end will never be in sight, I remember finish lines – especially the big ones – and I’m inspired and motivated to keep going, because no run lasts forever, and the struggle makes the finish that much sweeter.

I visualize. I repeat mantras. I talk back to the voices in my head that are telling me I’m done. I tell them that I’ve proven them wrong before, and I’ll do it again.

mentaltoughnessfuelinemptytankWhat works for me may not work for you, and like anything, it takes practice to figure out the best strategy for your training. But once you find it, use it – over and over again. Fighting those mental battles is a necessary part of race day, which makes it a necessary part of race training.

Don’t let the negative voices get the upper hand. I’ve learned the hard way – if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

But if you show them who’s boss, you’ll get that mile back – and then some.

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