Mental toughness is a skill that athletes of all levels should master
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Endurance sports in general are regarded as amazing feats of physical prowess. Despite this notion, these races are just as mentally demanding as they are physically. It takes a lot of mental toughness and fortitude to accomplish, let alone, do well in such events. While most endurance athletes train their bodies to get stronger, a lot forget to prepare their minds in the same manner. Here are a few tips on how you can train your mental toughness.
Reinforce your efforts with positive words
“Don’t quit” is a common phrase that gets thrown around a lot. While it can be useful sometimes, a better way of phrasing it would be “I’m nailing it!” or “I got this.” The subtle nuance in terms of wording has profound effects. Rather than focusing on the negative (i.e. quitting), you are able to reinforce your brain with something more positive such as success.
The key to mental toughness is confidence, not cockiness or arrogance
The trick here is to repeat this mantra during tough patches in training so you can use it when the going gets tough. For example, when you’re pushing hard during a training interval, keep repeating the phrase “I’ve got this!” to yourself. During a race, just bring back that phrase and think of finishing the event just like how you finished your training sets.
Preparation is key
The key to mental toughness is confidence. Now this doesn’t mean being cocky or arrogant; rather, it points to how well-prepared you are for the race. The best way to do this is to actually accomplish the necessary training. Think of the long runs, the shorter races, and the hard work you did to get to this point. Of course, you have to be aware of this tactic well before race day. Plan out your sessions, work with a coach, and do some research on the physical demands of the event. If you did the work, dial back to those sessions on race day and remind yourself that you’re ready.
This is an old-school method but still works wonderfully. When I spoke with sports psychologist Lee Tajonera about this method, he explained it’s more than just “daydreaming.” Visualization can be done many ways.
First, you need to imagine what you want to accomplish on race day. You can focus on things like feeling strong, cramp-free, and powerful; however, you need to add detail into these mental images. Imagine the course, your equipment, even the spectators. In fact, the more detail you add into these thoughts, the more effective it should be.
When delving in negative or unfavorable scenarios, learn how to set them aside and stop unhealthy and useless overthinking
Second, your mental images don’t always have to be utopian. Visualization can also focus on potential issues, problems, or concerns. For example, if the thought of getting a flat gives you anxiety, you could imagine a scenario in which you’re able to address the issue accordingly. Of course, you need to arm yourself with the knowledge and experience to replace an inner tube first before you do this. Once you’re all set, just keep imagining staying calm, relaxed, and in control as you make the necessary repairs.
Lastly, when delving in negative or unfavorable scenarios, learn how to set them aside and stop unhealthy and useless overthinking. For example, if there are certain things beyond your control (e.g. weather), think of what you’ll do when this happens but leave it at that. No sense in worrying about it if there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. Let it go.
Just remember, mental toughness is more than just telling yourself “no pain, no gain” or “pain is temporary, quitting is forever.” You need to do the necessary work beforehand to build on this aspect of performance. Just like in training, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Keep grinding!