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How to train your mental muscle

Train your mental strength the same way you train your running

As we all know, training toward any goal takes discipline and drive. Anyone who has run has hit some kind of mental wall; sometimes the wall is just getting out the door, and sometimes it can kick in halfway through a run or race. When all you want to do is stop, is bursting through the mental wall the best thing to do?

Previous studies have argued that running is 90 per cent mental, and that training is to prepare your body to knock down the wall. There are plenty of tips on how you can train to improve your speed or endurance, but how do you train your mental muscle? Can you train your mental strength the same way you can train your running?

Training your mental muscle is closely related to building confidence, which will have an impact on your run or race experience. Put yourself in challenging scenarios during training and try to overcome them; for example, if there was a workout that gave you difficulty a few weeks back, try it again a few weeks later, using your previous failures as motivation to get better. Over time, you will remember these moments from training, which you reach back on for a mental push when you’re in another difficult situation.

A tip for hard workouts or long runs is to break down the run into percentages. If you are going for 10 km and are struggling after 5 km, tell yourself you are halfway done. The tip can also apply to a tough speed workout on the track. Push through your inner narrative, and if you have to, tell yourself out loud that you can do it. 

To bolster your mental muscle, you must be consistent with it, like physical training. The moment you let any doubt or uncertainty into your mind, the harder you will hit the mental wall. Always keep your goal front of mind, so when the going gets tough, you remember why you started.

Another thing to think about is what’s at the finish line of every run. For me, it’s a doughnut or a post-run beverage that motivates me in the latter half of a long run. Another thing you can visualize is how great it will feel to be on the couch resting when you’re finished.