July 2017 - Mental Toughness

The Question

July's question was from John in Surrey. John wondered:

My favourite distance is the half marathon, but I really really struggle with the mental side of running. I get myself in pretty good shape for races, but find I start to fall apart at about the eight mile mark. I know deep down I could push on and run harder, and after the race I kick myself, but at the time I just don't seem to have the will to push on. How can I toughen myself up mentally?

- John, Surrey

Matt Kiernan
Matt - Athletics coach and distance runner

“One of the things I often advocate with the athletes I work with is to try and focus on something specifically related to their technique when things get mentally, and indeed physically tough.

Next time you feel like you are struggling in a race, try to hone in on a specific part of your technique for example, "What are my arms doing?" or "how are my feet landing?" or "What's my posture like?"

Focusing in on your technique can provide a useful distraction from the pain of a race very nicely and allow you to get through to the business end of races as pain free and as quickly (always important!) as possible.”

Paul - Ultra Runner and endurance coach

“That's a fantastic question; I've always found that the mental side of running and racing is as important as the physical. I've got three tips for you:

  1. Practise running at your race pace several times in your training. Go through the mental struggles of keeping your pacing in your training to help you in the race. One good session is 1 hour easy pace + 30 minute race pace - this then simulates running quickly when you are tired (like between that 8-10 mile mark in a half that you mentioned).
  2. Break the race into sizeable chunks, whether that's 4.2 parkruns for a half marathon ro something else. Have a strategy for each chunk; (1) build into it, (2) pick up the pace, (3) focus and (4) finish strong.
  3. My last piece of advice is to visualise yourself in the race and getting a PB in that race. Do this in your hard training sessions and in the weeks building up to the event. Imagine the moment of crossing the line with a huge PB, how does that make you feel? Go and replicate that!
  4. I hope that's helped you. There is a lot out there on visualisation. The top athletes use it, why shouldn't you?”

Our Member's Answer

July's member's answer is from Chris in Cardiff (who's cross country crazy. That's a lot of Cs).

Chris - cross country crazy

“I understand where you're coming from because I struggle with this too. Racing regularly works for me. I learn where my limits are and I suppose I've learnt over the years and although the body can hurt during a tough race it's only temporary and nothing bad is going to happen. If you do race regularly not every race has to be a full effort. It's fine to ease back occasionally. Pick the important races and give it your all for them.”

Thanks, Chris. There's no doubt that racing teaches you a lot.