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Keys To Running With Mental Toughness

Use these five tips to improve your mental toughness as a runner.

Use these five tips to improve your mental toughness as a runner.

As a runner, how mentally tough are you? In Part 1 of this article series, we talked about the profile of mental toughness. We discussed seven key traits that define the champion’s mentality. These traits are resilience, focus, strength, preparation, vision, openness and trust.

The good news is that you do not have to be born with mental toughness. You can learn to be mentally tough through your running workouts every day. The characteristics that make a mentally tough runner can be developed by anyone who wants to excel.

When you attain these qualities and practice these skills regularly, you can have the best chance of achieving your goals in your running. Each of us begins at a different starting point physically and mentally. We all have strengths that we can build upon.

Five Tips: How to build mental toughness into your running

Now that you have an idea of the collection of traits that mentally tough runners possess, how do you turn these qualities into useful behaviors that will make a difference in the way you train and race? Below are some suggestions that I have used and have helped many of my own clients tremendously toward running faster and feeling better.

1. Create your performing edge toughness mindset
The mind and body are so well connected that to achieve a good outcome, you need to have the proper toughness mindset. The right internal state must be created first. Once you feel right inside, a quality performance can occur naturally and effortlessly. The appropriate internal state can bridge the gap between what you think you can accomplish and what you actually achieve. It can make the difference between just having the ability and realizing your true potential.

RELATED: Handling Pre-Race Nerves

2. Build a mentally tough outlook
Direct your focus to what is possible, to what can happen, toward success. Instead of complaining about the weather or criticizing the competition, if you want to be a mentally tough runner, only attend to things you can control: Your thoughts, emotions, training form, and how you perceive each situation. You have a choice in what you believe about yourself. Positive energy makes peak performances possible.

3. Visualize mental toughness every day
Take 10 or 15 minutes each day to mentally rehearse your goals. Put yourself in a relaxed state through deep abdominal breathing. Then, as vividly as possible, create an image in your mind of what you want to achieve in your running. You can produce a replay of one of your top mentally tough performances in the past. Then carry all those positive feelings of self-confidence, energy and strength into your mental practice of an upcoming event. See yourself doing it right. Finally, use your imagery all the way through the event itself.

RELATED: Improve Performance With Imagery

4. Create a relaxed focus
To be more mentally tough, work toward maintaining your concentration for longer periods of time. You can tune into what is critical to your performance and tune out what is not. You can easily let go of distractions and take control of your attention. As you focus more on the direct task in front of you (your stride form, how you are feeling, etc.), there will be less room for the negative thoughts to enter your mind. You’ll be mentally strong under any conditions.

5. Use power words for mental toughness
Try repeating these phrases to be mentally tough before your next event:

I stay positive and mentally tough no matter what happens

I project confidence and energy

Going fast feels effortless

I am in my element; I am fully engaged in my running

I am tuned into what I am doing each moment

I fully enjoy every part of my workout

I am physically relaxed and mentally focused

I am a strong, mentally tough runner


About The Author:

Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, best-selling author of Your Performing Edge and creator of, is a Stanford-trained performance consultant, sports psychologist to Olympic gold medalists and CEOs, winner of the San Francisco Marathon and a second-place finisher in the World Championship Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. She is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, columnist, and TV expert commentator.