Mental Toughness: What is it and How Can You Apply it to Your Own Training?

A common definition of mental toughness:

‘a personal capacity to deliver high performance on a regular basis, despite varying degrees of situational demands’

We can all relate to this where we have had the initial motivation to perform a task when the thought arises in our head before certain circumstances arise (weather, work, traffic etc) limits our capacity to perform the task as we want to and therefore don’t attempt the task at all. Now obviously some circumstances are beyond our control and part of being mentally tough is accepting this, however what we must learn from this definition is that if we want to be mentally tough, we must focus on our behaviour and not our thoughts. You must behave in a mentally tough way and not just think about behaving in this way. Backing up day to day and week to week, regardless of the circumstances is the key to demonstrating mentally tough behaviours and will be the cornerstone to our success in our own goals for our running.

Dont think, do!

We can be in the best shape of our lives, but if we lack mental toughness when we toe the line, we may as well kiss our goal time goodbye.

When you set your goals and select your race whether it is a 5k or marathon or triathlon , you need to be diligent and committed to the cause.

  • Dive into it, live it, breathe it, trust your training.
  • You must be prepared to go to bed pretty tired and wake up tired regardless of your level of training.
  • Identify the barriers that may prevent you from achieving your goal and work out how to get around them (days and times and length of time you can train for), family and work commitments)
  • Plan your programme, be flexible with this.
  • Commit to the training required.

If you are serious about running a marathon or doing a triathlon, then you must be serious about making the commitment. Getting to the start line has nothing to do with chance and everything to do with preparation and work ethic.
You must give 100% of what you have, you must challenge your mind. Harness the power of your mind to help you to succeed. You must get to your place of struggle and push past it. Focus on the task at hand. You are building the character of the person that you want to be.

The hardest part of running, cycling or swimming is how we think about these disciplines. Your mental relationship with them defines your experiences. By focussing more on the mental side of things, you can boost your confidence before your key races and build intrinsic motivation so that you are training and racing for the right reasons.
A big avenue for improvement is mastering your mindset and improving your confidence, willingness to suffer sometimes and find the motivation to run consistently.
Resist the urge to quit, embrace difficulty, and respond positively to setbacks.

The 4 C’s of Mental Fitness-Commitment, Confidence, Control & Concentration

Commitment-ability to continue working toward your agreed goals. After you set your goal, relentlessly pursue, persist through obstacles and take pride in what you are doing along the way.

Confidence-belief in your abilities. It speaks volumes. A state of mind that comes from knowing you have the ability to meet the demands of situations you are likely to face. Knowing you are prepared physically and mentally. You can influence your own confidence, it can vary up and down so it takes constant nurturing. Your confidence and your trust in your training can 100% aid your performance in workouts and race day.

To build your confidence, you must reflect on past training and performances, remember the successful performances, visualize how it went and felt, all your hard work paying off, focus on the positives.

We need to exercise control over our self talk, the influence of our thoughts may be either positive and self enhancing or negative and self defeating.

Speak kindly to yourself 🙂

Control-ability to maintain emotional control regardless of distraction. Until you control yourself, you cannot control your performance.

Thoughts and feelings ⇒ Actions and behaviours. Don’t let the fear of failure control your emotions. Deal with performance anxiety long before race day. It really boils down to a single choice. We have a choice when the going gets tough to either listen to those thoughts or steer them in a positive direction that helps support our desires. It’s really just the art of paying attention and the privilege of shaping that choice to persevere and every choice either takes us closer to or further away from our goal. We must train with a positive attitude every day.

We train to build and race to test. If we remove performance anxiety from the daily training environment then we are starting to understand endurance disciplines.

Concentration-ability to maintain focus. Focus mental effort on the task at hand. Don’t ride the line of in-between, there are black and white decisions that we have to make in training workouts and race situations

mental toughness 2

Michelle Greaney (Personal Trainer and Level 2 National Athletics Ireland Endurance Coach)

MG Coaching-Maximising Your race Potential

5 Running mistakes to avoid

1. Not allowing enough time to achieve your goal
2. Going too hard on your easy days (intensity blindness)

3. Not being consistent
4. Ignoring strength training
5. Over emphasizing stretching

The underlying basis for setting goals is to discover new running limits and explore our individual running potential. Goals may include running a certain mileage over a certain period of time (week, month or year), running personal best times, running a certain event (10k, half marathon or marathon) The positive feeling when we reach these goals are extremely rewarding and uplifting.

Leave no stone unturned in your pursuit to reach your goals.

Avoid these common pitfalls

1. Not allowing enough time to achieve your goal.

You must allow an appropriate lead in time to achieve a certain running goal. When you don’t allow enough time, you are going to get frustrated and succumb to anxiety and pressure and feel you are behind in your preparations.

This may result in cramming training in the form of significant volume, intensity or even both. It may also result in removing rest days. Don’t! this can increase the risk of developing an injury.
You can’t short-cut your physiology! Gains must be made in due course with training.

2. Going too hard on easy days.

Many runners fail to run easy on their easy days and then they don’t have the energy to run fast on their really important training sessions. Running too hard is the single greatest detrimental mistake in running.

The tendency to run what should be an easy paced run at a moderate effort is most likely hindering the progress of a lot of runners. It is difficult for many runners to make peace with the concept that if they want to run faster, they need to slow down in some of their training sessions. Easy days are a crucial component of your training. To improve running and performance, you need to correctly balance training and recovery so that your body can positively adapt.
An appropriate number of easy days in between bouts of stress is vital for harder efforts during your workout days to be beneficial. Just as the planned hard workouts in your running programme serve a purpose, so too do your easy days. Easy days support growth and adaptation. Slow easy running helps to flush oxygen rich blood through the legs and heals micro tears and other damage that workouts and long runs create. Mitochondria, capillaries and blood flow to muscles are increased so they are better able to utilize oxygen.
So, slow down, keep your easy days easy to allow your body to rebuild and reset after a hard workout and before the next big workout.

Maximise your results on tempo/speed days by taking the other days easy consistently.

3. Not being Consistent

Consistency is the key to success, for runners of all levels, the key to improvement is consistency, structure, variation and patience!

The number one route to improved performance and forward progression is to aim for consistency with your training.

Training consistently and building up gradually with the right structure and progression will reduce injury risk and improve performance.

4. Avoiding strength training

Strength training has long been overlooked as a crucial component of a runners training. Many runners believe that strength training will bulk them up with muscle mass and subsequently impede their running ability. This is not the case with maximal strength and reactive strength training, you will not bulk up and put on extra muscle mass.
Strength training does however improve your stability, postural control, strength, rate of force development (power) and running economy, improves time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed and improves performance.

Running Economy is the oxygen cost of maintaining a given pace. A stronger athlete with appropriate strength, stability and mobility will cover the same distance more efficiently than an athlete who has poor RE.
Runners with good RE have greater stride length and frequency than those who struggle to control their technique due to a weak body.
Prehab work will focus on strengthening supporting muscles to facilitate proper biomechanics to avoid injury.

Strength training reduces sports injuries to less than 1/3 and overuse injuries can be almost halved. For a sport in which there is a high percentage of overuse injuries, why would you not do something so extremely valuable and reduce this injury risk?
Also, you will seldom come across a rehabilitation programme that doesn’t include strength training. Strength training will minimise imbalances and weaknesses to improve the body’s capacity to endure whatever training and competitive loads we throw at it, enabling us to perform harder and longer before we find a weak link and something is overloaded.

You want are neurally induced gains in strength and muscle fiber recruitment. Max strength training component aims to fatigue the muscle between 4 to 6 reps for 4/5 sets with an extended rest period between sets.

5. Over emphasizing stretching

Many runners over attribute the importance of stretching for their ambitions to run injury free and faster. It’s not bad, it just gets too much attention though it can have a place in some runners weekly program. There is however no evidence to suggest that static stretching significantly improves performance or reduces the prevalence of the common injuries in endurance runners. Acute stretching can reduce running economy and performance for up to an hour by diminishing the musculotendinous stiffness and elastic energy potential by reducing the recoil of them. If you reduce the reactive force enough, then you’re not going to spring, your flight time is going to decrease and you will get from A to B in a slower time.

If we use the idea of a pogo stick generating enough force to travel through the air to increase your flight time, then why would we try to loosen that spring up as much as possible by stretching. Strength will give you stronger springs, not stretching!

You are only going to inhibit your running
Stretching does not appear either to reduce the longevity or intensity of DOMS.

Don’t stretch just because other runners stretch.

Time spent stretching is better spent strength training working on exercises which have been shown to be very beneficial in the reduction of injury and optimization of running performance.

Goodluck with your training everyone 😊