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Train Your Brain: 5 Tips To Improve Your Mental Toughness

5 Tips To Improve Your Mental Toughness |

A crazy thing happened a few weeks ago.

Davey told me he didn’t want to run with me anymore.

We always train for triathlons together and we have been training for the NYC marathon since August and since we want to run our first marathon together, Davey is AWESOME and has been training with me at my (slower) pace.

Anyway, on this particular day, (we had a 20 mile run scheduled… our longest run everrrr) we were planning our route when Davey said, “why don’t you just run the 20 miles on your own.”


That comment catapulted me into the harsh reality that I had turned into a MONSTER over the course of our training. I can’t blame Davey for not wanting to run with me. I was mean, sassy, rude and had a bad attitude on most of our runs.

Basically, I was failing miserably when it came to my mental toughness.

Ever since that day, I have been determined to “train my brain”, boost my mental toughness and find strategies that will help me push through challenges, overcome discouragement and become a pleasant, positive and happy person to run with.

Here are 5 things that have helped me ramp up my mental game as I start to taper for my first marathon:

1. Gratitude

One of the things that was turning me into a running monster was the fact that I was focusing on negative things. Actually, I was looking for something to be angry about just to justify my childish bad attitude. Pretty pathetic, I know.

The truth is, you will always be able to find something negative to dwell on, especially if you’re looking for it. So stop looking for it and be grateful because there is always a reason to be grateful.

5 Tips To Improve Your Mental Toughness |

Nowadays, during every run, I try to come up with 10 things to be thankful for. I’ve started calling it “My 10 great things” list. I count them on my fingers as I run along and it takes my mind off of running. And I can usually come up with wayyyy more than just 10.

This has been the #1 most helpful thing that I’ve done to improve my mental toughness.  It’s SO simple, but so easily overlooked and underestimated.

Being grateful is powerful.

2. Own it

No one forced me to register for a marathon. I willingly registered because it’s something that has been a dream of mine for years. However, when I have a rough run or I am discouraged because I don’t feel like I’m making any progress, it’s easy to play the victim card and mope around saying, “poor me, I suck.”, and “Who’s idea was this anyway?”.

But I am NOT a victim, I’m a victor! And you are too! Training for a race of any length is HARD! It takes courage and perseverance and dedication. Own it. You signed up for it, you trained for it and you’re gonna be the one to get yourself across the finish line.

5 Tips To Improve Your Mental Toughness |

You’ll have days when you feel like you can crush your goal and set a new PR, and days when you want to quit. But no matter how you feel on any given day, remember that you signed up for this race because you wanted to push yourself and challenge your abilities and that is exactly what is happening. You’re being challenged and stretched.

So own it, accept the challenges and struggles that you face as part of YOUR unique journey and keep moving forward with your eyes focused on your goal.


3. Stop “Shoulding”

The other day I randomly decided to try out Davey’s heart rate monitor for the first time ever. We ran 3 miles at a 10:30 pace and my heart rate was in the 180’s the whole time. I was furious. My thoughts were swirling in a downward spiral and they sounded something like this:

“Why is my heart rate so high? We’ve been training for months and it should be lower. I should be in better shape. I should be able to run 3 miles much faster than I did and it should be much easier than it is. What is wrong with me? Maybe I should go see a cardiologist. I probably have a heart condition because my heart rate shouldn’t be so high. What if I drop dead during the race?”

5 Tips To Improve Your Mental Toughness |

And no. My “shoulding” didn’t stop there. It went on and on and on. And it took me out of the game for almost a week. This was the lowest point in my training and I knew I couldn’t continue on like this. So I decided to stop “shoulding”.

My mental toughness improved dramatically when I let go of where I thought I “should be” in my training and accepted that I was where I was.  Simply accepting where I was at the present moment released a lot of unnecessary and unrealistic pressure and allowed me enjoy the journey and be more fully present along the way.


4. Visualize and imagine the end goal/race day

As race day approaches, I love to imagine what it will be like to run across the Verrazano Bridge or through the crowded streets full of cheering fans in Brooklyn, or how I’ll feel when I finally cross the finish line of my first marathon. Of course race day will probably be a lot different then what I imagine, but it’s still fun, and helpful to imagine.

Visualizing yourself reaching your end goal can significantly improve your mental toughness. One thing I like to do is to watch YouTube videos of the actual course. It helps me visualize the race. This one in particular is my favorite:

2011 New York City Marathon from Andrey Blanco on Vimeo.

5. This video


In case you’re wondering, Davey did end up running the 20 miler with me and it was one of the most peaceful, positive and amazing runs we’ve ever done together.

I’m telling you, train your brain. It works.



About Author

Trainer DaveyTrainer Davey is an Orange County personal trainer at heart, but has since moved to Nashville and taken on the new challenge of triathlon training. Of course, he misses his home of Surf City...but Music City ain't so bad either!View all posts by Trainer Davey →

  1. llh

    Perfect timing…I have a 1/2 marathon coming up next weekend and I’ve been the one that has made all of the comments about the weather not being nice enough to enjoy running; I have other things I want to do on weekends; it’s a lot of work to take a masters swimming class and go for a long run on weekends. I had a miserable 10 miler a few weeks ago and that scared me from running for a week. I got it back and ran 11 last weekend . It’s a good reminder that I did make a choice to sign up for the race. I did choose to also take the swimming class. My friend is going to run with me for the race…and if it is like other races, I’ll have my cranky parts of it. But – I am doing this because I want the challenge. I want to be able to do it. So…I will do my best to get the mental part of running back! I’m convinced that running is much more of a mental game for me than swimming or biking…

    That video would be a good alarm clock!

    • Jess Anderson
      Jess Anderson10-26-2013

      Thanks so much for your awesome comment! I’m glad you found this post helpful. I can totally relate to everything you said! Good luck on your 1/2 marathon! You’re gonna do GREAT… both mentally and physically!