Accessing you mental toughness

635204708462443579It’s interesting to see and hear what my clients succeed and struggle with, and how that relates to my own struggles as an athlete. One thing a few athletes voiced struggling with in 2014 was mental toughness, which is a topic many of us know all too well. I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with it, and think I may have some ideas, tips and experiences that may help you and your running goals – especially in the marathon.

We are all incredibly strong. Sure, we have varying degrees of the tough stuff, but very few people are truly weak. However many people perceive themselves that way. The good news is that we can always change how we handle those hard moments and our perception. In running, clocking long miles like a marathon tend to really test our mental toughness. Mentally, I think anyone can get through a 5K. I can talk myself into doing anything painful or taxing for 15-25 minutes. Mentally, I’ve got that. That doesn’t mean I won’t hurt, fight towards the finish line and feel mentally spent at the end – because all of those things will definitely happen. But mentally I can always get myself around a 5K. A marathon is a whole different game. And here’s where we get personal:

I am going to assume that every poor soul taking the time to read my blog as experienced some form of hardship in their lives – maybe many. I’m talking the dark, ugly, painful shit. Divorce, loss of a loved one, being bullied, fighting substance abuse, physical setbacks, being mentally or physically abused, experiencing a horrific trauma and suffering from PTSD, rising above prejudices, or simply being told your entire life that you were weak. If you haven’t experienced any of that, you are extremely lucky and should probably start buying lottery tickets. For the rest of us, we have all had to cope with that crap at some point or another, most likely multiple times. Hopefully you have all processed these things in a healthy way. If you haven’t, talk to someone. Anyway, I’m not a therapist, but I do know the power of rising above bad experiences. If you are planning to run or race a marathon, or a distance that is new and/or terrifying to you, use those bad experiences. Why? Because you have forged your way through them and are here today and ready to run. That takes guts. And a hell of a strong brain. That strength is your ace in the marathon.

Personally, I’ll freely admit my triggers. For my first marathon, I used the determination to prove to myself and every girl who bullied me in high school that I was a strong fighter, and a Boston Qualifier. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to prove to myself I could survive an ugly divorce, a sexual assault, and a suicide attempt. I wanted to prove to the world that I was no longer weak, unstable, unhappy, or capable of crumbling when shit got hard. And so I trained hard. I trained with fire in my heart and blinders on my eyes. I trained through plantar pain, long work hours, and rain storms. When I’d reach mile 16-20 of my long runs, I’d fight through to mile 22-23. No, I was not training to be a pro or win awards, but I knew my goal was there if I worked hard for it. When I crossed that first marathon finish line, I wanted to shout up to the clouds all kinds of happy profanities. Not because I had surpassed my time goal, but because I had proved to myself that the weak, uncomfortable, insecure me was gone. Gone forever.

Now I realize that I had a list of really shitty things to propel that first marathon (blessing in disguise?), but use what you have. Dig deep, and find that strength. If you dealt with a messy breakup, had to balls to walk out of a bad relationship, use the strength that action took. If you were ill and needed surgery and pushed through the recovery and rehab, use that. Whatever you have surpassed, overcome, walked away from, fought head on – access that. Don’t be scared of it. Use your demons, and suddenly a marathon doesn’t seem so daunting. I mean yes, you still have to do the work and it’s a LONG ways, but I think you get it.

So if you experienced a long distance race that fizzled thanks to your mental state, go back to the drawing board on those long runs. Truthfully, even the most conditioned athlete can fall apart in the marathon if they lose their head. I’ve seen ladies who finish 7 hour marathons, putting one foot in front of the other slow and steady, refusing to quit. I’ve also seen ladies who aim to run a 2:45 marathon, lose their heads and throw in the towel. What we have going on in our brains has nothing to do with our physical strength, though we are at our best when our brains and bodies are both trained for race day – whatever that means for you.

You are stronger than you realize. All you have to do is accept that and dig deep to that place of strength. It takes practice to access it, so hop to it.

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