When I made the somewhat impulsive decision to sign up for a spring marathon, I knew that my mental training would be just as hard, if not harder, than my actual training. Training for a marathon isn’t easy in the first place, but training through the Chicago winter was going to require a steel will, a determined heart and about 20 different Hyperwarm tights. Plus, this time around I wasn’t going to have a crew training with me or Nike providing me with group long runs on the weekends. In short, it could easily become a slippery slope into skimping on training.
To preempt that, I sat myself down and had a chat the other day about how I was going to develop mental toughness. It went a little something like this:
“Self, I’m not going to mince words here. Some of this training is going to suck. It’s going to be absolutely miserable and you’re going to try and bargain with yourself that surely just one Saturday trading in your running shoes for Netflix and CBA is fine, and you’ve done a marathon before so you can probably skip that 16-miler, and treat yourself, etc etc.
“But you’re better than that. When you reflect back on how you approached this race, you don’t want to think that you could have run a little harder, or a little faster, or a little longer. You don’t want to walk up to the starting line of that marathon and think, ‘Oh shit, I am not ready for this.’ No. Absolutely not.
“You want to think of yourself as someone who doesn’t quit. Someone who’s dedicated enough to do a 12-miler in ‘feels like -6’ weather. Someone who didn’t let some crappy weather circumstances stop her from trying her damnedest to kick ass at this marathon. Someone that other people will be proud of. Someone that you can be proud to be.”
It was a pretty good pep talk, if I do say so myself, and I think it’s a big reason that I’ve stuck to my training plan so far. Mental toughness is a must for any marathoner, but it’s especially essential when your training circumstances leave a little something to be desired (sunshine and temperatures above freezing, specifically). Plus, mental toughness carries over to every part of your life, whether it’s personal or professional, and honestly, it’s something that I’ve come to rely on a lot during a personally rough six months.
Looking to develop mental toughness yourself? Try these strategies:
1. Find a mantra. Having something that you can repeat to yourself when the going gets tough can dig you out of that mental hole. I have one that I use during a tough workout, whether it’s an interval run or a strength training session at Hard Pressed. It’s kind of embarrassing, but we’re in a safe space here, so I’ll share: “Run so fast, lift so much, ball so hard.” I’m making the monkey covering its eyes emoji face in real life right now, but whatever, it works for me.
2. Find a power song. This isn’t necessarily the song that you listen to when you need an extra pep in your step or you want a feel-good song. This is the song that makes you feel powerful and that you feel guilty if you slack while that song is on because somehow you’re disrespecting it.
I found my song last week during an interval run on the treadmill. Eminem’s “Till I Collapse” came on, and what was supposed to be a quarter mile surge turned into three minutes at a hard tempo because I just couldn’t bear the thought of stopping while that song was in my ear buds.
3. Visualize your goals. Whether you want to get five pull-ups in a row, beat your race PR, or be able to do a handstand, keeping your goals at the forefront of your minds will help you tough out the pain.
4. Set challenging goals in your training. Hill workouts and interval workouts are so easy to skip, but I’m always so insanely proud of myself afterwards. It’s a great self-confidence boost to realize that yeah, that workout was tough, but I was tougher. You may hate the workout, but you’ll love the after-effects.
5. Recognize when you’re making excuses, and correct yourself. In my case, cold weather is a bogus excuse because lord knows I’ve spent the money on the gear that protects me during those runs. I have the tools, it’s up to me to use them. Training in less than ideal circumstances will make you a tougher competitor during the actual race, and the easiest way to overcome these excuses? Simply enough, just do it. One trick that I use a lot when it’s cold or snowy outside is telling myself, “I’ll just do a couple of miles, then I’ll turn around if it’s really that bad,” Spoiler alert: it’s rarely that bad.
6. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be the type of person that quits?” I had a rough run on Friday. The wind was horrible, I wasn’t properly dressed, and I was running a route that had a bus conveniently going to my final destination. It was pretty tempting. But instead, I asked myself, “Do I want to be the type of person that quits during this?” and my answer was absolutely not. On its own, quitting during a tough run isn’t a defining moment – but do it enough times, and it becomes acceptable, and even worse, a habit.
Don’t be the type of person who quits when things get hard. Be the type of person who’s so dedicated to your goal that you have blinders on when it comes to anything else, and that other people will look at in admiration when you crush your goals – because you will.