The Fascination of Mental Toughness: When we pass the point of running and into training it’s the mental aspect that really comes into play

Getting back into running after any kind of break is rough sailing. Be it out of injury, post-season recovery, yes, even some are afflicted by the lazy monster, can we get a collective, “Ouch” from the crowd? That said, battle through those first couple weeks and then soak in the awe of muscle memory.

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Bent over and panting...have you seen this scene before?? ;)


Runners, once you’ve been at this long enough, have pretty much conditioned our legs to bend to our will. The quads, hamstrings, calf muscles, core, and even those biceps alike, know the motions thanks to the hours of repetition; they can to a degree function on auto-pilot. So we suck it up those first few awkward runs, try to not look at the pace and cringe too much, and eventually slip into a more reasonable state of shape.

Getting to our own ‘casual’ running pace doesn’t take too long but then, as with any other runner out there who wants to race or test themselves, the work is as hard as heck. Training involves the intervals, tempos, repeats and pain. Training involves the mind games; the pendulum between good days and the days when you feel like utter crap are more extreme and the exertion level is felt to a higher degree. Training is far more uncomfortable.

I tend to talk a lot about the mental games, the importance of tenacity; tips and tricks about how to get through tough workouts, talking yourself into a gamer state of mind, how to NOT let your mind hold you back from achieving what you want out of your body. I think the reason I do is that the topic on the whole fascinates me; it isn’t something you can quantify, gauge it like you can a certain pace, there is no formula, you can’t tell by looking at a person or by doing any number of scientific tests just HOW mentally tough a runner is and where they fall on some kind of grit spectrum.

We look to examples of harriers that exude grit and toughness; their pained expressions, their ability to race outside of anything their workouts would predict. Some pass out after they cross the line, others are acknowledged by their own competitors as bada** racers, “They are tougher than anyone I’ve ever seen or raced.”
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I, just as other athletes and runners, tend to soak up quotes, advice, stories of epic races and duels, surrounding the topic of mental grit because it is so mysterious. Just as others I’ve finished plenty of races and workouts and wondered, “Did I give everything I had? Was there even a fraction of a second where I may have given in, eased up just a bit to the pain?” Because it’s one thing to feel like you were beaten by your body on a certain day, sometimes it is just not in the legs for whatever reason. But it seems to sting a heck of a lot more to be beaten by the mind. THAT seems to be the worst.

Yet when you know you’ve definitely won the battle of the mind THAT seems to be especially gratifying and even to a degree more admired than the actual time or outcome of the race. Odd how there have been races where the runner who gets the most buzz and acclaim, who we seem to admire the most that day, was the person who had the most guts rather than the actual winner.

No matter what point you are with your running, no matter how many years you’ve been at it, the level you race at, if you even race at all…when you crest the point of ‘comfortable’ running and into ‘training’ running we are all in the same boat. Exertion is exertion. Tons of factors come into determining the paces, times, and titles but we are all uncomfortable together. Thus we ALL gravitates to one variable that is a common place we can improve upon, the variable that fascinates and mystifies us all: mental toughness.

That’s the one that can leave us questioning ourselves almost the most, “Did I get the most out of myself today or was there a point where it was my mind holding me back?”

1) What point are you at with your running; are you running just to run or training? Both are fulfilling in different ways and neither one is necessarily better or worse here.

2) Are you particularly interested in the mental aspect of running? What about it do you think piques your interest the most?
I love hearing recounts of runners telling me about their toughest races or workouts; I could hear ‘beastly’ moments and workout feats from people all day long. :)

3) Would you like to share one of your own beastly workout or race stories??

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8 thoughts on “The Fascination of Mental Toughness: When we pass the point of running and into training it’s the mental aspect that really comes into play

  1. So much love. This is such a huge area of interest for me and you write so freaking well about it. It’s so interesting the mind games that actually go on during a race. Yesterday I was following this girl..and for some reason I just knew that she was going to crack and I could take her. I don’t know if it was her body language, my basic instincts or her nervousness at the start. But I just waited calmly for the opportune moment. I always feel that my mind lets my body down! I agree that the worst pain is in knowing that you could have physically given more, but your mind couldn’t hack it. Therefore I’m a regular in the medical tent, mostly spewing and a couple of times passing out. Not much fun at the time ;) Again..so much love and hope you have a great weekend!

    • haha….a med tent regular, eh? well i think that answers ur question of whether or not u gave it ur all mentally AND otherwise. :P glad u cracked that chick in the race and blew by her too. :)

  2. I ran a 21 min marathon PR last year and was mad because I mentally was pretty weak – bitching the whole time about how the marathon was too long and I hated it and was never doing one again. I missed a 10K PR last weekend by 9 sec but gave it my all and mentally was pretty good and I was pretty pleased. The mental aspect of running is basically all of running for me. Putting in the work is pretty much 2nd nature for me, but getting my head in the game requires some work.

    • okay, while i’m ALL about wanting to be a ‘gamer’ you DO have to at least give urself credit for the massive PR. take the fact that u recognize that u weren’t doing the best job mentally and then imagine how much better u’ll do for the next PR! that said, way to be a baller on that 10k…sometimes i’m more proud of the workouts/races where i really push past the suffering more than the ones where i feel ‘on’ and get super times. :)

  3. I had gotten pretty behind on my Google reader, and just read through a few of your posts. As I read each one, I found myself nodding along in agreement – especially the one about being a runner no matter what distance you race and this one.

    Mental toughness is the part I’m really trying to work on – it’s always been my weakness. I hope to read through some of the links you included in this post so I can try to improve that area of my training!

    • aww, u are too sweet and glad u are enjoying getting caught up on my posts!! i’m glad i’m able to hold ur interest a bit. ;) hehe

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