Runners devote a lot of time to their training plan. No matter what the goal, it’s often hard not to get wrapped up in mileage and workouts. Good news mental fitness is not too hard to achieve.
The racing calendar is ‘hotting up’ and with that comes an increased intensity in training and many times, with our busy schedules not enough rest.
Lately we have noticed that many fellow runners on social media and plagued with injuries, lack of motivation and pure exhaustion.
Despite the obvious physicality of running, there is also an enormous mental component to training and racing. Building mental fitness alongside physical fitness is essential to long-term success and longevity in the sport.
We’ve all struggled with difficult runs, bad races or even weeks of low focus and motivation. Hitting rough patches is unavoidable over months and years of training. Knowing how to push through these challenges can make the difference between a discouraging and successful training cycle.
The key is mental fitness. So how do we achieve this?
While there are many components to mental fitness, we’ll discuss three that are especially relevant to runners: mental toughness, combatting anxiety and using stress to your advantage.
Mental toughness is the reserve both your mind and body reply on to help you through difficult situations. These include:
Mental toughness is a skill developed over time. Think of it like a muscle — the more you use it, the stronger you become. Sometimes with running, the hardest part is getting started.
Learning to get used to being uncomfortable is a skill that improves with practice. We are not talking about running through injury or outright pain, which will require the mental toughness to rest.
Instead, we are referring to the kind of discomfort that comes from a hard tempo run, intervals on the track or hill repeats, which will teach you to push as your tolerance to discomfort in the body increases.
When you face anxiety about an upcoming race or workout, it can be challenging not to let yourself be consumed by your thoughts and fears. But there are ways to turn your anxiety into more useful and productive behaviour.
Physical and mental preparation both have a place in reducing anxiety and stressful thoughts.
Preparation gives you a big advantage on race day, so don’t shy away from thinking about your upcoming race.
For most of us, the word “stress” has a negative meaning. Stress is something to avoid or minimize.
In the running world, stress has a place and a purpose. By using the appropriate amount of stress in your training workouts or scenarios that challenge you without being overwhelming or inappropriate, you encourage growth and improvement.
In your training, be careful not to push yourself over the stress threshold too often. For instance, running your first 20-miler may be new stress both mentally and physically while training for your first marathon. But trying to accomplish this when your previous long run is only 10 miles likely pushes you over the edge and leads to injury.
When stress is used as an appropriate trigger to improve, however, it becomes a positive and necessary part of your training.
Summary: Mental toughness, anxiety reduction and the appropriate use of stress in your training are all essential to becoming a mentally fit runner. Consistent training and preparation, both physically and mentally, are components to address in your training that will benefit your running along with other aspects of your life.