How to become a Mentally Stronger Runner.

A blog by Sammy Mclean

I should start by saying I have no formal qualifications around the area of Sports Psychology or for that matter, Philosophy, depending on how you might interpret this blog. I am however very fascinated with the mental psyche when it comes to training and racing and how by having a deeper understanding around this vital area, I can assist with runners that I coach.

"What makes you Tick as a Runner?"

My interest in Sports Psychology really started by some self-enquiry around me as an athlete – basically ‘what made me tick?’. Why did some races go so well and others I feel I didn’t perform at my best? What role did my mental approach have on these outcomes?

Why was it that if my physical fitness was the same, did I sometimes have very different and polarising race results?

It’s ok to be Vulnerable.

For most of my twenties whilst racing Marathons and Ironman events,

I pushed these questions aside.

I convinced myself that if I could be 100% physically prepared, race hard for 9hrs, block out the pain, then this must make me mentally tough, right?

But then I started to experience some really disappointing race results and it was uncomfortable to acknowledge the role my mental approach may have been having on these particular results. Basically, I was forced to delve into my vulnerabilities as an athlete and what these were.

"What’s your Relationship with Pain?"

I realised my relationship with pain and discomfort had to change and that it was necessary to be ok with the possibility of races not going to plan. That is, I needed to be ok with failing and feeling vulnerable. Pretty confronting hey?

So what steps did I take and what changes did I implement to address some of the above.
The first was to become much more accepting of the discomfort associated with training hard and racing. I had labelled pain as a negative aspect to being a runner, rather than just a normal emotion to training and racing. Even though I thrived on pushing myself deep and hard in races, for the most part I was resisting the pain and basically at war with myself when racing.
How can you beat yourself at something?

Mentally Practise in Training for Racing.

So in training, I started to develop much more of an awareness around my thoughts, particularly in harder sessions. By being more aware I was also being more accepting about the situation. My ‘labelling’ around pain, and judgement of it, started to change, and it changed for the better.
There was much more ‘flow’ within my sessions and if anything the thoughts became more spaced out and quieter in my head. I’m sure everyone’s had this experience, when a session or race just felt like a blur and you were in your own bubble, with an almost effortless feel and flow to it. That’s what we want more of during training, that quietness in our mind, with less judgement, because after all, what we practice in training plays out on race day.