Mental toughness is the ability to withstand discomfort with a focus on your goal. All of the situations and struggles in life develop your mental strength. You are defined by how you react to different situations. In racing, the battles lies between your body and thoughts. When a race gets tough, the mind will always give in before the body. The challenge is to control your thoughts, and get your mind and body to work together to achieve your goals.
The key to mental toughness is preparation. Training for your race will increase mental toughness. When you show up the the start line, you should be confident in your abilities. You confidence comes from adequate training, and preparation. That confidence kicks in when the race gets hard and you want to stop. If in training you have already had these feelings, you know you can push through.
- Know your body – Be sure to notice the difference between this is uncomfortable, and this is injuring me.
- Have a race day plan and execute – eliminate unnecessary decisions.
- Simulate race intensity in training – not everyday
- Have confidence. Accept that the race will be difficult, you are trained, and prepare to suffer a bit for your goal.
When a race or workout gets hard, the brain wants you to stop. Your mind will play every trick it has to get you to stop or slow down. That little voice in your head will say “go ahead, just walk for awhile” or “Today is just not your day, slow down a bit”. Everyone has these thoughts, even elite athletes. When you can push through and not give into these thoughts, that is when breakthroughs happen.
To combat this voice, you need to be present and focus on the now. The mind may trick you into thinking you can’t run another mile, but it’s hard to convince you can’t run two more lamp posts. Focus on what you can do right at this moment to push you toward your goal. Accept the situation, adapt, and overcome.
- Focus on breathing and relaxing into the effort
- Break the race up into small pieces – Run to the next lamp pole, Swim another 20 strokes.
- Have a mantra – My mantra is “Relentless Forward Progress”
- Be optimistic that things can get better. Example: You stomach may become upset during a long race. Know that it may hurt now, but with some additional nutrition and time, it can come back around.
Find Your Happy Place
To pull yourself out a funk during your race, go to your happy place. I know this sounds a bit new age, but it works. When all of your focus is on the hurting, you need to shift your focus. Turning those negative thoughts, into a positive feeling is powerful. Those positive thoughts can get you into a rhythm and carry you through the difficult times in a race.
Try this: Force yourself to smile for the next two minutes. After the feeling silly for the first 30 secs, your mood will actually start to improve. You actions can impact your mood and attitude.
Here are some ways to find your happy place during a race:
- Smile – It is also easier to breath while smiling
- Encourage others – Your positive attitude will spread to others, and you will feel more positive in the process. Win-Win
- Remove the word I can’t – Turn your mindset to thinking of what you can do , and not what you can’t
- Think of the reasons why you are racing the event. Maybe you are racing in memory of a loved one, or to set an example for your kids. These powerful thoughts can push you through.
- Absorb the energy of the race. Feel the energy from the crowd and other athletes. They are cheering for you because you are being awesome. They respect the training and effort your are putting forth. Soak it up.
I hope these suggestions help next time you are in the pain cave during a race. If you have any strategies that work for you, please share in the comments.