Becoming mentally tough isn’t an easy process. People weren’t just born with that characteristic. It was learned and practiced.
The best athletes, entrepreneurs, civilian and military leaders all have one common trait, they live and breath for what they do.
I always love going to bigger cities where street musicians perform for people walking by.
Have you seen how absolutely talented some of these artists are? How often do you think they practice what they are doing?
Why is it that so many people are blown away by people who seem to be born with some other unworldly gift?
Tiger Woods didn’t just come out of the womb with a golf club in his hand although he just about started the sport at the same time.
He has practiced the same strokes over and over again, thousands of times over many hours.
It is what MJ Demarco, calls the ‘process‘. It is the long hours, sweat and sacrifice that so much of the world never sees.
We applaud the event but forget the process it took to reach it.
The street musicians, the talented runners we see, the public speaker that seems to create poetry when he or she talks all make us wonder.
How did you get like that?
They have practiced what they do thousands of times.
Haile Gebressalassie, the former world record holder in the marathon and the first man to break 2.04.00 for the distance (an average of 4.43 per mile) ran 10 kilometers to and from school for 10 years!
Is it a wonder why this man is as good as he is?
He has not lost the love for what he does. He has endured.
His first marathon, if you can believe it, was a 2.48. A respectable time but even a 2.03.59 marathoner had to start somewhere.
You may have already run faster 2.48 so let that inspire you.
It is normal to think like this but all it really is, is people using what they already possess but in such an intense, focused and uninterrupted way that it looks unnatural, incredible to the outsider.
I can remember being teased going through high school because my friends wanted to party while all I wanted to do was to train. It wasn’t normal, perhaps to them, but it was normal to me.
Our normal may be someones headache. What we fear may be comfortable to someone else.
There are people who love going to meetings, being the boss, talking about the same subjects. I get it but if it isn’t meetings about exercise physiology or training I want to pull my hair out.
The point is we all have things we do, strengths we have that are normal to us yet a pain in the ass for others. The difference between those who succeed in our sport and those who let up is it is not a pain in the ass to train.
We’ll actually sometimes is very much is but we find enjoyment in it. It brings us alive. Those that enjoy meetings may get their kicks talking about powerpoint presentations and fighting over the way a chart may look.
We may see that as absurd but to them it is their art, what they do.
How do you overcome the norm and becoming mentally tough?
The problem with our society is everyone seems to be telling you what to do, be normal, don’t poke the box. Do not question authority as this doesn’t fall into the normal category.
Stay in your comfort zone, adhere and do as everyone else does.
Everyone has genius in them. The moment you start to go out on your own, ask questions or do something which others would certainly feel is breaking the norm you eventually run into some opposition.
This isn’t always the case but I am sure you have encountered this in your running. You spend a little more time then normal running and someone tells you, ‘you are overdoing it’ or ‘get a life’.
So how do you become mentally tough as a runner?
The same way you become mentally tough in any other area of your life. You let go of the areas of your life that are not motivating you, invigorating your enthusiasm to excel in the sport and focus on concentrating on the things that will make you better.
There is already enough ‘normal’ in the world.
I always loved what Steve Prefontaine said years ago, “I like to create art when I run, I want to make people say, ‘I have never seen anyone run like that before‘.
What is your art?
1. Stop saying you are not talented enough. Far too many phenomenal people are selling themselves short.
I really believe all it takes is having motivated, hungry, determined people that share the same interests, wants and dreams as you do surrounding you.
One of the greatest things about this site is hearing from so many motivated, focused and excited athletes.
I answer every email I recieve.
I am not interested in being better then my readers.
My readers have their own stories of triumph and have done things in their lives that far surpass what I have done.
Running a fast time doesn’t make you better then anyone else. Are you sharing your expertise?
Do you take the time to sit down with someone who needs encouragement? Time is the most precious gift we have. Use it in productive ways by helping someone else.
Me being a sub 2.20 marathoner is no less impressive as someone who has dropped 100 pounds, set a new personal best after hardships.
The person who doesn’t quit and continues on even when they have had countless setbacks is an ‘elite’ athlete in my mind. The media isn’t interested as much in that fact but I sure as hell am.
It takes a top athlete to handle disappointment and equally as tough as of an athlete to continue to pursue goals that seem elusive the faster the times get. The faster you get the harder it is to drop time, the challenge goes up which makes having goals all the more beautiful.
Why this isn’t applauded as much as someone running what the rest of the world considers an ‘elite’ time is beyond me. It just doesn’t make sense sometimes.
If you don’t think you were born with the talent to be a great runner then seek out those who don’t have what the world considers ‘talent’ and have done things you wish to do and ask them questions.
I think you’ll soon find out that they are just normal people like you and I. They simply have craved something others would despise.
I have said this in the past and can tell you with all certainty why people succeed in this sport. Successful people, runners, succeed because they have found something that they are good at and love and see it as pleasure whereas others doing the same thing view as painful.
2. Don’t let up when you have a setback
You want to know a great practice in becoming mentally tough? I believe you, as well as I have already had plenty of practice in this exercise…fail.
Edison failed 10,000 times before made the electric light. Do not be discouraged if you fail a few times.- Napoleon Hill
The people that you see running faster then you are no more determined then you are. You may be just as determined, perhaps even more focused but when struggles come in their path, in your path…who do you think will get the personal best or the fitness goal achieved?
The one who persists longer. It could be you, perhaps them. If you have failed in the past and you know damn well and good that you didn’t work as hard as you should then there is no reason to blame anyone.
It isn’t a case of you not being talented enough to hit that so-called impossible goal. Impossible goals are the greatest tasks to go after because they are what everyone considers ‘impossible’…..until someone does it.
I think about breaking 2.15.00 for the marathon. I am 36 years young. I was 31 when I ran 2.19.35 and 34 when I ran 2.26.42 while trying to fit in 110-120 mile weeks within the 101st Airborne Division.
It was a challenge and many times most of my co-workers thought of me as out of my mind but that is just it, there is no fun in trying to do the easy tasks. The comfort zone should be attacked. It doesn’t bring the best out of you, it keeps you safe and it sure as hell doesn’t show others your art.
Don’t let up!
3. You know what doesn’t work, try something that does. The great Emil Zatopek knew that running easy would not get him an Olympic gold medal.
It wouldn’t assist him in producing faster race times. He practiced paces equal to and far exceeding the paces he dreamed about running.
You know that old saying, ‘if you keep doing the same things, you’ll keep getting the same results’ is partly true.
That being said, sometimes you can change your training up, try something totally fresh and still not get the returns.
Thats ok because you learned what doesn’t work. You adjust course until you find what does.
Don’t self-sabotage yourself into believing you are less of an athlete then you are if you didn’t get the time you wanted or had to drop out of a race.
Do you not think the world’s top runners haven’t experienced the same issues? They have.
This was my biggest pet peeve when I was with the Army World Class Athlete Program. Runners understand this but results in our sport don’t come overnight.
We live in a world where everyone wants everything express. The results must come now.
I remember flying back to Colorado after finishing 17th in the Nation at the 2008 USA 25K National Championships.
I ran 1.21.33, a 5.15 per mile average for 15.1 miles and was asked, ‘what happened’?
What happened was I placed in the top 20 fastest runners in the United States on that particular day in a National Championship competition.
The great distance coach, Joe Newton, said it best, ‘the better you perform the bar gets higher and higher because people have expectations of you, you run a descent race and they ask you what the hell happened’.
That is exactly the question I was asked.
It was a solid effort and I am all about progression. I understand the process very well, not everyone else who hasn’t studied this sport inside and out does.
It took me five years to improve from 2.43 to 2.19. The more competitive company you keep the bar goes up but you can never lose sight of your plan and progress.
You have to remain vigilant and patient knowing that your golden moment may come in 5 months or 5 years but however long it takes, you will persist.
The point is this, if you do not believe in delayed gratification, if you are not brave enough to endure the road blocks along the way, then you are selling yourself short.
You aren’t seeing the bigger picture. You are trying to keep up with what others expectations of you. Stop doing that if you have in the past.
If I would have let up, even for a second after running 2.40.02 and 2.51.51 prior to my 2.19, I would have never experienced the joy of getting under that time.
I remember how it felt to fail knowing full-well how much potential I had.
I remember the comments I received when I failed from others who weren’t out on the roads, training in the shitty weather conditions.
I am again at that point in my running. I want to break 2.15.00. It isn’t going to be easy but I am willing to endure and put myself in the game.
I am just being honest. I want to see you putting forth greater effort in your training and creating breakthroughs this year. You and I may not know each other from adam but I do care about seeing people like you doing extraordinary things.
It took me many years to fully believe in my strengths as a runner. It took world-class athletes I associated myself with to continually reinforce that mindset.
If you are constantly around people who don’t support or uplift you, you are working with the wrong people.
Find those that will and surround yourself with them.
Change up your routine, start reading different books. Seek out those athletes who stand out in your eyes. Find out what they do.
Be yourself, use your strengths but their is a clear path that has already been laid by the greats, all you have to do is find it and stay there.
Becoming mentally tough as a runner is a process. Believe in that process. The others wants the results now and will let up while you, having the fortitude to endure, will achieve the results they sought because you simply didn’t understand what it was to let up.
THAT is the difference in the sport, not letting up. It takes an immense amount of dedication and if you have read this far you clearly have that trait, just keep hustling, lacing up the shoes and putting in the work.
The greats in any field of interest have an unstoppable drive not to quit when others would. They are no different then you, they simply work more extensively and for longer hours while others finds other things to do.
Use what you already have. I have lived and breathed this sport since I was 15. Helping other runners totally annihilate their pre-concieved notions of what they think they are capable of is my main goal.