5 Steps to Increase Your Mental Toughness


Mental toughness. We all want it. We all know we need it. We all know it can mean the difference between a good run and a bad run. Yet mental toughness remains tough!

I’m a firm believer that what you believe, you achieve. It may not happen on your schedule, but if you keep believing — if you keep affirming it, keep believing it — it will happen.

I’m also including a mantra for each point that I built using this awesome post here.

Today’s actual topic is how we fuel our runs, but I’ve already written about that; you can read that post here. Although things have shifted a little, as I’m constantly experimenting, and honey stinger chews are definitely a staple in my long runs these days.

I mix it up with some “real food”, as I documented in the post above, so that I have something to look forward to — not that Honey stinger chews taste bad — far from it — but I crave variety on the run.


Today I am joining up with the  Friday Five 2.0  from Fairytales & Fitness and Rachel @ Running on Happy to share five beliefs you may have and simple ways to help overcome them (you might also be interested in my post on five beliefs I’ve conquered here).

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or a coach of any sort. Use your best judgement when trying my suggestions.

I’ll never get any faster
I started out slow. And then I got faster (although not fast by any means). And then I seemed plagued by injuries, and even when I wasn’t, either I was battling wind, or unusual heat, or incredible hills.

I felt stuck. Yet somehow I continued to believe that there was a faster race in me. Even when I doubted (and I did), I knew, deep down, I could run faster. Eventually that belief was rewarded (after lots of hard work!).

When this thought creeps into your head during a workout, tell yourself that you are doing the hard work to improve and you know that you will.

Your mantra: be fierce; embrace speed

I’ll never recover from this injury
It always seems as though all we see when we’re injured are people running. Everywhere. And we watch them with incredible frustration and loging.

When you believe that you will never recover from an injury, tell yourself that you are working with professionals to heal, and you are doing everything in your power to heal.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been lucky to run through most of my injuries, but I’ve had to battle through months of painful running and start back at square one. I may not know what you’re going through, but it hasn’t always been unicorns and glitter.

I do know that believing you will never get back to running (unless there’s a medical reason) will not motivate you to do the work to get back to running.

Your mantra: think positive; feel confident (ok, I put my own spin on that one)

I can’t run well on hills
Of course to run well on hills you have to train on hills. Incorporate hill repeats into your training plan — the bonus is that hill repeats are speed work in disguise! If you know that you have a hilly race coming up and you live n a flat area, either seek out a bridge (hills in disguise) or utilize that treadmill.

You may still feel afraid at the start of the race. The thought that you never run well on hills might enter your mind.

Tell yourself that you have trained for these hills. Go a step further and tell yourself that you eat hills for breakfast.

Your mantra: go strong; feel power

I can’t run well in the heat
I really struggle with running in the heat. I struggle with paces, I struggle with energy, I struggle with the will to finish a run sometimes. I had quite a few halfs that have had unexpected heatwaves — like, they couldn’t predict it just a couple of days before the half.

I won’t lie: this is a belief/fear I am still working on, despite my breakthrough at the Best Damn Race New Orleans (read about that here). If I know that I’m going to a place that will be hotter than where I live, I will overdress for some runs and I’ll try to hang out in a sauna. Don’t laugh — I’m convinced it helped! I will also put the vacation portion of my racecation first, so that I have time to acclimate.

What about races where it’s a sudden heatwave? You have to slow down. It’s frustrating, but if you don’t, you’re going to puke or hit a wall or cramp or even worse, DNF (did not finish). You have to pay close attention to your hydration — you might have to carry some water even if it’s a relatively short race. Try to eat more hydrating foods (see Rachel @ Runningonhappy’s post here). Consider supplementing with electrolytes a few days before the race. Freeze part of your water.

Your mantra: I’m a beast in the heat (definitely a CRJ creation!)

I always go out too fast
Ah, the beginning of a race. The adrenaline is flowing. You’ve trained hard, and you believe that you’ve got this. And it all feels so easy. And then it happens: somewhere in the race you get to the point that you know you let that excitement get the better of your common sense, and you went out way too fast. Either you mightily struggle to the finish, or you tank and limp along to the finish.

Then you berate yourself for always going out too fast.

Practice starting slower than you think you should. Tell yourself at the beginning of the race, “my race, my pace”. Hopefully you have a race plan. Stick to it. Tell yourself that you have trained yourself to start at the right pace for you and that will help you finish strong.

Your mantra: run light; start slow (another CRJ adjustment)

Did you come up with your own mantra from that list? I’d love to hear it! Let us know what it is in the comments, and what situation you plan to use it.

So let me know in the comments:

What do you need to work on?

How will you work on it?

What suggestions do you have for others to “toughen up”?

27 thoughts on “5 Steps to Increase Your Mental Toughness

  1. You are right about the value of mental toughness! It’s scientifically proven that in experiments where athletes train to exhaustion, when you ask/ tell them to do more they always can, your muscles are never completely depleted! Your brain always tries to stop you and conserve energy. There are some good books on topics like this, ‘the first 20 minutes’ is a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have said all of these things at one time or another because they are ALL true at one time or another. There are days and races that we are not fast, the hills kill our speed, the heat drains us, we start out too fast.

    I don’t use mantras. I just accept that it is what it is. There will be another race where I will do better. It helps when you do a lot of races. It helps when you don’t plan a PR and your goal is just to enjoy running or racing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I use mantras ALL THE TIME. Even on a good run. If just to be thankful.

      I never plan a PR — does anyone, really? I might work towards one but I know that however hard we work it’s not a given.

      I truly believe that thoughts are powerful, though. And that’s it’s much better to have positive thoughts than negative ones. And that mantras are super helpful, too.


      1. By plan for a PR, I mean train for one. Isn’t that one of the reasons why you hired a coach?

        Most of my negative thoughts are after but go away pretty quickly esp if I have another race soon after.

        My mind when I run is usually on other things (like work, family friends) so lately if I’m not talking to a friend, I listen to a podcast. I don’t wear a watch so I’m not struggling to meet my pace. I have no idea. Alyssa & I just chat and look at her watch to see the distance and then decide if and when we want to quit.

        I try to have the same experience in a race but sometimes my competitiveness gets the best of me. I don’t look at my pace during a race either. But it’s that clock at the end….

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Planning & training for a PR isn’t the same thing. And no, that’s not why I hired a coach.

        I hired a coach simply to have a guide. To bounce questions off of. Of course I do hope to get faster and I work towards it but it’s not everything by any means.

        Training gives me more peace of mind.


  3. Mental toughness is something that I am consistently working on because I can be my own worse enemy. I’ve definitely said all these things to myself during a run.

    What has been helping me are my momentum jewelry wraps. I look down at my wrist and repeat the mantra over and over.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am at a place in my training where so much is mental. I notice it at Orange Theory, I notice on my bike, and I notice it on my runs. Keeping my brain in the game is 90% of the battle! Suck it up buttercup and YOU GOT THIS are my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a good thing I’m as stubborn as I am. My injury-prone body needs me to stay strong, and I need to understand it’s not an easy fix. I’ve always needed to work patience.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The big thing I’m working on at the moment is my patience as I recover from a surgery that I never expected. It’s frustrating to be recovering from something that you really weren’t injured from…it’s just the reality of the situation (or fate?). My mantra (right now) is #onward because staying put (and dwelling) is not gonna improve my situation or my attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I need to work on I’ll never get any faster. I am a slow runner, but my speed has improved from when I started in 2015 to now. Sometimes I get discouraged from reading some running blogs. The ones that run down what they call “mediocre” & why would those slow runners bother. I keep telling myself I am doing good & with practice I will get better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankfully, no one has ever said that to me, although I know people do, sometimes. I know it stings — it’s hard to ignore stuff like that, but the truth is they will never understand and that’s on them.


  8. You are right the battle is somewhat in the brain!!
    You know heat is my nemesis, but I have accomplished more in the heat than I thought possible, but I do have to listen carefully to my body since i have been very sick in the heat in the past.
    You know I do now buy into the whole I went out too fast thing. I think most runners, unless you are brand new, should have idea what is sustainable and what is not, and you can adjust without it killing you completely in the long run.
    I have heard a quote if you run past your sustainable pace you will pay for it big time, and I have always wondered if that is really true.

    Liked by 1 person

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