This is a continuation on the Top 4 Mental barriers for Endurance Athletes – (part I here).
Barrier #2 – “I’ll practice mental toughness on my good days or when I’m ready.”
Mental toughness is rarely shown when everything is going your way. It is demonstrated when things go awry. It is demonstrated when every adversity you can think of confronts you. It is the day you show up and forget your racing shoes; there are gale force winds; you have a cramp you never experienced before; you have blisters on your feet after only 5 miles; mile markers are mismarked, your clothing is rubbing you raw in special places; your stomach is upset and the course is rerouted to throw a bigger incline in than you’ve seen in your life.
Almost any athlete can push when they feel good. That is one form of mental toughness. But the real barriers happen on those bad days. And that is when you need to have an entire toolbox of coping strategies.
You best prepare yourself for bad race days by taking advantage of your bad training days. What specifically did you do to complete your run? What specifically did you think about? What got you through the next mile, the next corner or the next step. How did you cope with whatever barriers you met? And if you gave up or gave in – what were you thinking or telling yourself? This is important to learn because that is exactly what to avoid on race day!
The bonus is this. If you can indeed be mentally tough on a bad day, you will absolutely thrive when things are going your way and you are pushing your way to a new personal record!
Barrier #3 – “I have a race this weekend I want to be mentally tough this time.”
A key barrier to breakthrough running is not practicing like you will race. There is no pill to take or any overnight cure. It took years of thought habits for you to think the way you do. Too many runners believe that if they just “think about” being more mentally tough on race day that they will in fact be more mentally tough on race day. This doesn’t happen. Mental toughness comes from the development of new mindsets that are refined through habitual practice. Workouts must be designed to test you physically and integrate mental game. Merely because you did a bunch of training or a certain number of long runs does not mean you will be mentally tough on race day.
- Run a time trial or race at shorter distances (learn how you deal with discomfort and how you push through it; chance to experiment with various mental games).
- Run at your goal pace for specific distances to learn how you will feel at that pace (tune in to what keeps you on pace; how to get back on pace when you fall off pace).
- Run faster than goal race pace in shorter distances (aside from a good workout it changes your perceptions of race pace).
- Run workouts with your fastest repeats or miles at the end of the workout (learn how to keep going and in fact push while fatigued).
- Run workouts “the best you can with what you’ve got”. Learn how you do and don’t get things done on those “bad run” days (see Barrier #2).
*And in every case tune into where your mind goes during these workouts and learn from them!
Barrier #4 – “I read your article and book – now I’m ready.”
You can read all you want. You can study, learn hundreds of techniques and thousands of applications and even become certified as a mental game coach. None of this means you are mentally tough. This view is a barrier to mental toughness development. Many of the principles are clear and simple. They are grounded in sound psychological, learning and physical sciences. Their simplicity is misleading however and in fact a common downfall for athletes “trying to get mentally tough”. If you do not practice mental toughness on a regular basis you will not magically become mentally tough because you read about it.
Practice mental toughness and all mental game techniques daily and in as many aspects of your life as possible. It is a way of thinking. You either adopt mentally tough mindsets or you do not. You either decide to take control of your mind or you do not. Hire a professional mental game coach. The reason most athletes come to me is that they realize they need help learning to apply and reinforce how to become mentally tough. Like they say, if everyone could do it – they would.