A man looking into the distance with a serious expression

Mental Toughness

The Question

This question is from J, who is considering the psychological element of racing:


“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?”

Matt's Answer

“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's Answer

“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 or 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, so why shouldn't you?”

Our Member's Answer

Chris in Cardiff is cross country crazy.

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 that 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.

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