Mental Toughness

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One thing I like about my new personal trainer (besides that she told me that I’m fun to work with and she’s been looking forward to our session all week — what is wrong with her?!?!) is that she’s helping me get mentally stronger to prepare me for the marathon distance. She knows that I’m going to need it.

I struggle with mental toughness. I suppose most people do. I’ve found it worst when I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. In races when I’ve had a solid time goal, I find myself mentally doubting myself and what gas I have left in the tank when I reach those final stretches. And I panic a little, which does nothing to help my performance.

Conversely, when I tell myself to just run and have fun, I exceed my expectations. Basically, I’m my own worst enemy.

20140219-124333.jpgToday was a Tabata focused workout. She started me with more @$;:&@!?9):!#*%!!! burpees with a high knee hop added in, 8 sets of 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest between. 20 seconds have never seemed so long. Some older gentleman decided that watching me do this set was a spectator sport, and stood right in front of me with a goofy grin on his face. Good thing I’m not very self-conscious. It was a little freaky though.

We did ab work, tricep work, shoulder work, jump lunges (oy! Those were tough by the last rep) and squat jumping jacks. I also was still trumped by the damned jump rope. Why didn’t I do more jumping rope as a young girl?

We did a lot of stuff that was hard after the first few reps, making me feel alternately like I was going to puke or on the verge of crying. At one point I wanted to ask her if her clients ever burst into tears mid-workout. I know this makes this session seem awful, but it wasn’t.

A lot of people bandy the phrase “pain is temporary” around in the fitness world, but I really think what we’re talking about is discomfort. Pain is bad, discomfort — even extreme discomfort — is what I should be pushing through. Knowing the line? Tricky.

I’m learning to embrace Eleanor Roosevelt’s mantra of doing things that scare you. Funnily, my mantra of “I can, I will, I am” is about the last thing in my head when trying to push through workouts. I need to work on that. Although the one that does pop into my head is “you’ve got this,” which isn’t a bad substitute.

Right now, my training is focusing on getting through when tired. I’m teaching my mind and body to persevere. I’ve been through plenty of tough stuff, getting sober and separating from my toxic mother rank pretty high, so this ought to be cake, right? 😉

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5 thoughts on “Mental Toughness

  1. I think running well is mostly mental. Not only keeping yourself from giving in during a hard run, but also keeping relaxed and calm. I have had my best runs when just focusing on relaxing! On another note, I used to want a personal trainer, but after reading this… not so much. 🙂

  2. Great post! I completely agree with your thoughts on “pain being temporary”, or the old mantra “pain is just weakness leaving the body”. I fundamentally disagree with these strategies – pain is a signal from our body that something is wrong. Carrying on regardless will ALWAYS make the situation worse. However, that’s very different from controlled discomfort and battling with (often mental) fatigue, which we train as athletes. Knowing the differences comes with experience I think. I also found that the mental side of running for a long time and racing is a lot harder than the physical side. I’m by no means an expert, but as with most things in life, I find that practice does make things better. Unsurprisingly, the best way to prepare to run for a really long time is to run for really long periods of time (duh!) and become more skilled at wrestling the mental demons. I always find that when I tackle a new distance to race, I usually feel quite overwhelmed by the idea at first. Then I start to get my head around it, and then I start to practice it. Little by little, my confidence grows. The usual, normal rough patches in long races don’t bother me anymore. I just notice them now and know that they always pass if I keep looking after my physical needs. I just keep going and distract myself, and a few kilometres later when I check in again, I realise that I’m flying once more. That’s definite progress! Good luck with your training, you can do it! The best advice I can give, as always, is to have fun with it – relax and enjoy running for what it is!

  3. TR says:

    So true what Judy mentioned, it only seems like ‘cake’ after. When I push myself in new things it is uncomfortable, even if it ‘looks’ similar to other ways I have pushed myself – it still feels uncomfortable or tough because I’m pushing through it in a new way (I think in a healthier way). Way to go on the burpees! xx

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