How to Build Mental Toughness (according to a PhD and World Champion)

In high school, my track coach could always be found on the sidelines screaming “Get out of your comfort zone!!

mental toughness

He was telling us that progress does not happen when you’re comfortable. You’ll never set a personal best running comfortably.

And it takes mental toughness to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

There’s no way around it: racing hurts, training can sometimes be boring, and it takes a lot of time, effort, sweat, and maybe even tears to get faster and break through a performance plateau.

Strategies that can help include:

  • Comparing yourself to others (strategically – not for every run!)
  • Building self-confidence in your abilities
  • Embracing beneficial anxiety – but managing unreasonable fears

The real question is: How do we build these skills so that we can tap into our most powerful muscle (our brain) to run faster?

Even though we spend the vast majority of our time focusing on our physical skills, what about our mental skills?

If the reason we give up in races is because of our self-limiting beliefs and inner voice, how do we get stronger?

The good news is that you don’t need to wait for Neuralink to train your brain.

We can do it every day while running.

Becoming a Brave Athlete

Simon and Lesley

I invited Simon Marshall, PhD and his wife Lesley Patterson to talk about these practical strategies on the SR podcast.

Their new book The Brave Athlete is a handbook for the athlete’s brain, showing you how to:

  • Resist the urge to quit
  • Embrace difficulty
  • Respond positively to setbacks
  • Build confidence and self-belief
  • Cope better with stress and anxiety

This husband and wife team is quite the duo. Simon is former professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of San Diego and a professor of sport and exercise psychology at San Diego State University.

Currently, he’s the performance psychologist for BMC Racing – a World Tour professional cycling team.

His wife Lesley Patterson is a dominant triathlete, having won three world off-road triathlon champions and an Ironman Triathlon. A professional mountain biker, she’s also a former national champion in cross country.

And I think all of us get how important our brain is to our running.

How many times have you been halfway through a long run and dreaded every step?

How many races have you wished in hindsight that you had sucked it up and ran harder instead of settling?

It’s happened to me more times than I can count. And it happens to world-class athletes (like Lesley, which we talk about) all the time, too.

This podcast will show you how to turn your brain into an asset, rather than a liability.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Resources & Links From the Show:

My question for you: what mindset strategies do you use for mental toughness? Leave your comment below:

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  1. Marina Naumova says:

    My favourite mantra is, “You can run fast/faster without running hard/harder.”

  2. Tim Quinn says:

    Fantastic thoughts!

  3. Sapna Sharma says:

    I always think ,”I have nothing to lose! However I run , I am better than what I was yesterday, because it is some kilometres more than I had ever run!”
    It is always a good feeling to be on the track , because it is better than no running. This itself a motivating factor.

  4. Ray Simpson says:

    I need to tap into my mental toughness at times! I’ve signed up for the Loch Ness marathon in 3 months, and really want to get under 3.30 mins, but don’t know if I’ve left myself enough time. At the minute I can run 10 mile, and have ran London in 3.40 minutes. Will have to look at the mental side of things!

  5. When I’m running and feel like stopping, I analyse why I want to stop. I run through physical things in my mind to see if there is something making me want to stop e.g. are my knees hurting, are my legs aching, can I breathe!

    If everything is ok and the reason is boredom or lack of willpower, I get stern with myself! There’s nothing like an internal pep talk to keep me going. I think about how satisfied I will be at the end that I overcame the urge to stop 🙂


  1. […] run and the views along it. After the run, I listened to a new Strength Running Podcast episode How to Build Mental Toughness (according to a PhD and World Champion), which I highly recommend you listen to (along with all the other Strength Running Podcasts). It […]