Running is a physically demanding sport – there’s no question about that. But your success is just as driven by your mental strength as well as your physical prowess.
A foundation of mental fitness helps you push through tough times (whether that’s a single mile in a 5k or an entire training cycle), no matter what race you’re training to run.
In a few weeks, we’re going to focus much more on “mental fitness” and the skills that make it up:
- Anxiety management
- Mental toughness
These are extraordinary skills that can make or break a runner’s race performance. And having control of your mindset is a clear competitive advantage.
And if you’re willing, I would love you to answer this short 3-question survey to help me develop the best material possible!
There are some runners who aren’t even aware that they need to improve their mental game. Maybe you never feel like you lack confidence or face too much anxiety on race day.
Or perhaps you always feel “tough” during races, never giving in to that negative voice in your head that tells you to slow down.
Regardless, sports psychology fundamentals are still applicable to every runner.
And all of us have a lot to gain by developing our mental fitness alongside our physical fitness.
Today I want to introduce you to Jennifer, a runner in my 1-on-1 coaching program. She’s a classic case study of a runner who believed she didn’t need very much help… only to discover how much that support improved her running.
Mental Fitness Starts With Physical Fitness
No runner becomes mentally strong without difficult training. By challenging the body, you then challenge the mind.
Jennifer realized this when we started working together. She wasn’t sure what she was capable of and our journey to building her mental fitness began with her training. She told me:
“Before training with you, I was very uncertain as to my ability – it wasn’t a lack of confidence, or a lot of anxiety – it was mainly a lack of knowledge.
I was just getting by with ‘formulaic training’ and not an approach that matched my real ability.”
My job as her coach was to help Jennifer believe in her abilities and that would give her confidence. That new confidence in her fitness would bleed into her mindset, helping her develop mental toughness and grit.
But of course, this process takes time.
That’s because you must push yourself to do things you’ve never done before, whether a faster workout, higher weekly mileage, or more days of running per week.
For Jennifer, it began with increasing her weekly mileage. She admits that it was a struggle at first to adapt to all the running (“there is A LOT of it”), but she eventually grew more accustomed to the miles.
This dedication also led to faster workouts and a subsequent shift in confidence:
“My mindset changed after I successfully attempted workouts I didn’t think I would have been able to do prior. This didn’t happen right away – it evolved over time.
I started to really see my effort get lower with my times getting faster – and that was when my confidence really shifted.”
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced runner trying to improve, mental fitness evolves over time. Your mental toughness, confidence, and ability to focus all build as you venture into new training territory.
Your Mental Game is About Problem Solving
At its most fundamental, mentally tough athletes are great problem solvers. Just think of all the problems that runners experience:
- Training interruptions (vacations, work commitments, kids getting sick)
- Race-related pain and fatigue
- Low motivation and negative self-talk
Over the last two years, I’ve been working with Jennifer to approach every issue with this problem-solvers mentality. And we don’t apply this approach to her problems, but also to her successes as well!
I asked her about this and she said:
You support your athletes with thoughtful feedback. After hearing a struggle or a triumph, you really drill into what should come next.
If it’s a struggle, you break it down to a level that is easily understandable and doesn’t get you down – it’s a realistic approach to the next step. I’ve trained a couple of 5ks with you, several half marathons and 3 marathons. Now I will just say that I trust my training with you based on experience.
Perhaps the biggest struggle was her build for the 2019 New York City Marathon. Things were not going very well…
Jennifer was battling summer heat in Texas, wasn’t having fun, and her training wasn’t ideal.
But as soon as she wanted to quit, we reevaluated and turned things around. She said:
You encouraged me, reminded me of my goals, and that made me turn my mindset around pretty fast.
Instead of agreeing with me that yes, it was hot, and yes, my times were slow, that doesn’t mean I was going to have a bad race. And I didn’t have a bad race! Again, this was a realistic approach.
Jennifer ran only a few minutes behind her PR at the NYC Marathon but was pleased with her time. It’s not an easy course, after all!
I Want to Build YOUR Mental Skills
Working with my 1-on-1 coaching clients on building mental fitness is a thrill. We’re in regular contact on goal setting, evaluating performances, race strategy, and tactics for increasing mental toughness.
But I know not everyone can work with a private running coach.
So I’ve been hard at work building a new program to help runners boost their psychological skill set and become the confident, mentally tough athlete they know they can be.
There’ll be a lot more info coming out in the weeks and months ahead, including:
- More case studies of successful runners
- Sports psychology strategies like self-talk, proper goal-setting, visualization, and more
- Mindset traps to avoid that make mental toughness even harder to achieve
While sports psychology may sound too “out there” to some, it’s ultimately grounded in practicality. You learn how to set big goals, tackle them in an appropriate time frame, and effectively manage any setbacks that may come along the way.
These skills are essential to success.
To better help you, I’ve created a short 3-question survey on mental fitness here.
My goal is to use your feedback to create coaching material that directly solves your problems, gives you the strategies you need to achieve your goals, and make sure every question you have is answered in the coming months.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!