Mental toughness is such a huge topic of discussion in athletics. First and foremost, you must believe in you. No matter how lofty your goal may seem, it’s always attainable. You need to quiet the voices of self doubt but also quiet the outside chatter of individuals. Set backs will always happen and you need to anticipate them. I have been setback from bad races, DNFs and injuries. Guess what? They may bring you to your knees but you will stand taller on your feet when you stand. These moments are what builds resiliency and the internal building blocks to self confidence and perseverance in life. Once you can separate your minds notion of the negativity correlated with pain, you can break the threshold of your personal potential.
FIND YOUR WHY
Whether you’re an an athlete or not, times of adversity will always test the strength of your purpose and visions. Everyone has their “why” for training. Finding what your “why” is paramount in keeping your goals aligned, your headspace focused and a baseline that you can return to. I refer to “finding your why” as an energy saving button in your mind. Instead of fighting your thoughts, you return to this question to allow your mind to reset. Whether you are embarking on a tough training or a new distance/competition. Your “why” will always stem from something deeper and personal. This “why” is what pushes you during difficult times and keeps you working hard. Finding your why will give you a direction that reminds you of your purpose, motivation, discipline and end trajectory. Every athlete at one point will come crashing into a wall. One in which they believe they cant go further. Taking that moment to remember this crucial question will allow you to break the norm and break through personal limitations.
POWER OF VISUALIZATION
Mental visualization is simply mental stimulation of what you want to experience in the future. If you manifest this in your mind, in part, you are starting to experience these experiences today. Using this mental visualization technique can enable you to rehearse your emotions on race day. Whether you visualize yourself crossing the finish line, your breath work or even how you may deal with emotions that arise; you’ll be more in control on that day and feeling more empowered. With mental visualization, you can also rehearse what you will say to yourself when you find yourself in a negative space.
Visualization goes hand in hand with training. Remember that every training run is a chance to work through the innate drive propelling you forward, mental lows, uneasy stomach cramps to absolute exhaustion. It is within these countless hours of training that you build mental fortitude. You can visualize how to cope with these aspects as they arise in training for the big day.
DISCLIPLINE AND CONSISTENCY
Disclipine leads to consistency and enables you to make the proper choices for today and tomorrow. Disclipine in athletics is what builds that resiliency you need in training but also in competition. Disclipine comes in many forms and not always the obvious. When we associate the world discipline, we draw the direct line to training. Disclipine extends itself to every meal you eat, every training block and the most crucial, recovery. This holistic approach to disclipine is one factor.
With endurance sports, the physical capability has to be present, but its more determined by your mental strength. Your body can push beyond limits you thought to be once impossible. Be that tiredness or being extremely fatigued. You are constantly breaking down new walls as you explore your body through endurance sports. The screeching tires on the road comes full stop when your brain starts saying, “you’re tired, stop, you’re body hurts, you need rest”. Your mental limitations will stop you well before your body actually stops. Having that mental fortitude means you have to be tenacious.
The athlete who trains for the perfect race will always be out run by the person who came to conquer its imperfections. Things don’t always go as planned, be it weather, a nagging injury or overall fatigue. Training your mind to be tenacious has to do with adaptability. You have to live in the moment, stay within your breath and focus on every step. Once you hit that low point in training or competition, try to figure out its source before panicking. Is it dehydration? Low on calories? Exhaustion? Overwhelmed by the course or distance? Taking on each problem as it arises is a part of the bigger picture. It will enable you to strengthen your mind, but also to allow you to finish a race.
Nerves and self doubt are two of my favourite training parters. There’s always a level of uncertainty that arises when pursuing new personal endeavours. You can either look at these two factors as a negative or use them to your advantage. These stem from the uncertainty of stepping into new unknowns. Nerves and self doubt don’t have to be strangers to you. You can use visualization techniques on how you may cope with them on race day (breathing techniques, meditation or self talk) and use them to your advantage.
- If you quit, you will be stuck in a mental purgatory of hell wondering, “what if”. You can always find a better mental state if you allow yourself to adapt and pause. This will give your brain a well needed break and compartmentalize certain emotions that are arising.
- Break down the race or training into manageable blocks. Whether that is aid station to aid station, break points or reaching summits. You can tackle any journey if you focus on the now.
I asked Ian Morgan and Fran Gonzales, two inspirational and accomplished Ultra marathon athletes their perspectives on motivation and mental fortitude.
Q&A with Ian Morgan
Q: What has kept you motivated to train during this pandemic?
A: I focused on what I could do, with what was available to me. In my case, I couldn’t train outside so I used our apartment building underground parking basement to train in.
Q: What tactics do you use to build metal fortitude?
A: Mostly life experiences have helped me develop mental toughness. Also realizing that no situation (good or bad) lasts forever. I jut go with the flow and accept the moment for what it is.
Q: What advice can you give anyone right now ho is lacking that motivation to put the gears into motion?
A: Speaking from my own personal experience, figure out what you can do today, work towards small daily goals. Be consistent and disciplined with whatever goal you set. Also, dont watch to much TV or consume media that talks about what the world is doing. Focus on what you’re doing.
Q&A with Fran Gonzales
Q: What has kept you motivated to train during this pandemic?
A: I really love to run and be active, its part of my daily life. Its something that i do that brings me a lot of happiness. I also had a race that wasn’t cancelled so i had to a goal to keep my fitness up and run the Fjallmarathon in Sweden.
Q: What advice can you give someone trying to build mental fortitude in endurance sports?
A: Try to keep your inner voice positive an don’t be so hard on yourself. The only person that you need to believe in is you.
Q: How do you get comfortable with being uncomfortable?
A: If I feel really bad in a race or hit a low point, I see myself crossing the finish line and this motivates me to continue.