Mental Strength

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In order to succeed in sports, it takes a mix of mental and physical strength. An athlete can’t survive on one alone, but needs both to be at top notch in order to perform to the best of their ability.

I think runners in general are pretty mentally strong. It takes a special type of person to push into pain… and enjoy it. Not everyone can run for multiple hours to make it to the finish line of a marathon. Am I mentally strong? Personally, I wouldn’t consider myself to have all that much mental strength. Sure, I probably have more than the average bear, maybe more than the average runner, but nothing special. I hate when I get passed by runners that are breathing harder. It makes me feel like they’re working more and can push into more pain than me. There have been times that I’ve had some kick*ss races and really have risen to the occasion. However, there’ve also been plenty of times when I’ve buckled under the pressure. I consistently have solid workouts, but it doesn’t always translate on race day. I have stellar time trials and good performances at unimportant races. However, I am oftentimes iffy when it really counts. Out of the six races I ran at Thetford, I’m really only proud of two.

Do I have talent for running? Sure, I have some. I wouldn’t be able to run as fast without some talent. When I was in elementary school I could outlast almost everyone in my class during the “pacer” (a fitness assessment that tests endurance). If I didn’t have some talent, I wouldn’t have been able to qualify for states in the 800 three months after surgery with barely any training. Is my talent for running really all that special, though? Not particularly. My running ability isn’t anything out of the ordinary. I’ve consistently been one of the top runners on my team or in my age category, but it’s not like I won states or qualified for nationals. What I do have is a great work ethic. If I have a workout scheduled then I’m going to get it done. I don’t always WANT to do the workout and sometimes I have to force myself out the door, but I get it done.

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The Psychology of it all:

I took a sports psych class last fall and it was pretty cool, but most of what I learned was common sense. For instance, one of the biggest things I remember was when we talked about gaining confidence for competition. Success in competition leads to more self-confidence, which translates into more successful performances. Simple, right? That’s why you often hear of teams going undefeated or having huge winning streaks. It’s easier to keep things going when you’re successful than to bounce back after a bad performance.

As much as I like the saying that failure makes you stronger, I don’t believe that’s always true. Failure can take a blow to one’s self esteem and create doubts in oneself that weren’t previously there. I do believe that failure can be helpful, though. After my bad marathon it made me realize how much I want it. It made me realize how badly I want to have a good race and what I’m willing to do in order to succeed at the distance.

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My plan:

I am currently still pretty disappointed in my marathon experience this spring. I don’t think that wound will heal until I have a marathon performance I can be proud of, but I’ve decided that I definitely want to give the marathon another go. I’m not a giver-upper and I can’t leave that distance alone because I had a bad first-go of it.

I run 6xweek, normally for over an hour each time. I put in so much time training my body to perform, but if mental strength is such a big component of performing well, why don’t I spend more time working on the psychological aspect? I have some serious work to be done regaining my mental strength. Over the next few months, I will be working diligently on that.

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A Last Note

When I first started blogging, I wanted everything I wrote to be cheery and happy. I thought people wouldn’t want to read what I had to say unless it was all positive. However, I now think honesty is more important. I want this blog to be genuine and I’m not going to put on a happy face when I don’t mean it. That’s one thing I’ll promise you. I apologize that my posts lately haven’t been as positive as previously, but that’s just not where my head is at currently. Once my training gets more consistent and I get more in the groove of things, I’m sure I’ll be back to my old running self, so stay tuned! Thanks so much for sticking by me. I have the best supporters and I love you all! ❤

Are you mentally strong? Do you think you have natural talent?

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13 thoughts on “Mental Strength

    • Exactly. There have been very few races that I’ve known I’ve pushed as hard as I possibly could. Normally there’s still that little extra effort I can give.

  1. This is so true! This past weekend I had my state qualifying meet, and I just didn’t understand how girls who seemed to never work as hard as I did ended up going, and me, the girl who worked the hardest, didn’t end up going. Well, I got home and creeped on their fb profiles, realizing they were the type of carefree, never over thinking, happy, confident, girls with high-self esteem. I have none of that, and that’s why they are better than me. Mentality is everything when it comes to performance, especially running. Virgil once said, “they did it because they think they can.” We have to think we can do something in order to do it.

    • Yep, very true. Mentality is everything. I find it way harder to train my brain than to train my body. Hopefully we’ll both improve upon that! 🙂 Sounds like you’re pretty similar to me.

  2. Laurel, I could have written this myself girl. Blogs are great but I think we get into trouble when we try to only reflect the good because it’s just not the reality of running. When we read other people’s blogs that only reflect the good, it compounds the feeling that we’re not keeping up. So make it honest!

    As for mental strength and talent, I have a lot of the latter but I don’t always live up to it because of the former. I get to a starting line and assume I’m going to lose. I rarely feel good about performances (even PRs) and pick them apart mile by mile. It’s something I’m working on too, so I’m hopeful we can work through it together.

    As for you, I think you are far stronger than you give yourself credit. I’ve coached you and run with you and I don’t know many other runners as tough as you, for what that’s worth. We’re all behind you and know great things are ahead.

    • Thanks, Sarah. It’s tiring trying to be fake-happy, which I’m surprisingly good at, but I just don’t want to do that here. Blogs are our own places to be creative and we should be able to be honest on them. As far as my mental strength goes, I think you might think differently if you had seen me run my sophomore or junior year. It wasn’t pretty… My senior year cross season was out of the ordinary. I think you’re much much stronger than you give yourself credit for as well! I guess it’s easy to pick apart our own flaws and criticize our own weaknesses. Yes, hopefully we can work on that together. 🙂

  3. Is confidence not simply built on skil, and therefore on training and experience?
    I’d love to work on my confidence but I don’t know how, (except by
    training).
    How are you working on it?

    Happy running!

    • I think confidence is a mix of the two. Some people are naturally more confident than others, but either way people’s confidence can be improved upon. As far as ways to improve confidence, most of it comes from experience. Good performances translate into more confidence as well as good workouts. Workouts that simulate races can help you learn what to expect on race day and feel more ready and therefore more confident. I also like the saying, “fake it till you make it.” Pretending to be confident can actually make you feel more confident. I also like to visualize myself racing successfully. The more often I do this the more prepared I feel and the more it helps. Happy Running and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hi Laurel, what a great blog! I didn’t even know you were working on it. You brought up a lot of great points.

    I suspect I am similar to you (well, you are my daughter!), in that my greatest “achievements” in the past have been my work ethic. I also have been able to have some good performances, but I think my work ethic actually elevated me more than most, even those equal or much better, as I got the sense that I worked harder than most. And, like you, as I think I have told you, there were a few times in a race I heard someone passing me and breathing much harder, and it did not make me feel good about myself!

    Your writings on mental toughness were most interesting.

    Now, here is something else about me … I can be mentally very tough on somethings, like exercise, and once, for several decades, really, really tough regarding my physics (i.e., working hard at it). But I am certainly not tough about everything! Like, for example, cleaning, sorting, keeping up on email and correspondence, etc. Are you like that? It’s funny, because I can be REALLY tough on some things, at least for a period in my life (like physics), yet you might never know it in other areas of my life.

    In any case, great blog, good thoughts, and you have a great thing going. And those pictures and quotes! Wow!

    Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad! I think we definitely have similarities in our confidence and work ethic – maybe genes do play a part! You definitely have some natural talent like me as far as endurance sports go and also have a great work ethic… depending on what it is. When I really care about something I’ll pour my heart and soul into it while the things on the back burner go unnoticed (aka: cleaning my room, responding to emails as well…).

  5. No need to ever apologize for being honest. This week I read an article about how people who are more confident (and not necessarily more competent) often do much better career-wise than those who don’t project confidence. Having confidence and being in a good state of mind is important for sports, one’s career, physical health, etc. We all go through times in our lives where our confidence and mental state takes a blow. You’ll get through it though – we all believe in you and are rooting for you!

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