How to Develop Better Mental Strength for Running

By Mel & Jon Sinclair

“Running is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head.” – Ray Zahab

We’ve all heard it before…your mind will give up before your body. And after running a 90 hr 36 min 200 mile race…we can vouch for that statement.

If this is such a big deal, how much time are we spending on focusing on physical training versus solely focused on mental tenacity and developing that?

Through our ultras we’ve noticed the few “hacks” below and exercises have worked to help keep our mind failing before our body.

1. Three positives to every negative.
This is a rule I’ve been using since I started running. For every single negative thought I have bubbling up (i.e. “ugh my legs hurt!”), I have to think of THREE positives that are genuine and in the present (i.e. “the sun is up”, “I have these amazing legs that work and allow me to do this”, “the smell of the fresh air”). This extinguishes those negative thoughts fast and returns me to a neutral if not positive state of mind.

Mel and Jon running Madagascar as the first people to ever finish an entire 4 Deserts Roving Race in sandals.

2. Nip negative thoughts in the bud.
As soon as you notice a negative thought bubbling up, recognize it then let it go–ASAP. The more you dwell on it, the more energy you give it, the more likely it is going to drastically affect your performance. Be careful of what you let in. I remember we were racing in a 7-Day Stage race in Madagascar. I was having a rough start to the day, was dehydrated from the day before, had a bit of trouble getting breakfast down, and overall not the happiest camper from the get-go. The negative thoughts were popping up left, right, and center—“What if I don’t finish this stage?” or “I’m for sure going to bonk with not having much feed in me!”. However, I once the thoughts came up, I focused my energy on something else. After 10 minutes of constantly doing this, my mind was silent and at peace…and I had one of the best race days that day.

3. Self-growth books/podcasts/videos.We like to focus on working on ourselves. Once you can know your triggers, what your motivations are, your tendencies and when you doubt yourself, you become a lot more powerful in controlling your mind. The more you are versed here, the easier it is going to be able to catch yourself and turn yourself around when you’re in a negative spot during a race. Few of our favorites:
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
– Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

10% Happier
Impact Theory

4. Cold showers in the morning.
Intentionally put yourself in situations you don’t like all the time but know are good for you, in my case, cold showers. I know I’m not going to like it, but a cold shower forces me to really suck it up, look at all the benefits of it, and just get ‘er done. Is there something in your life you know falls into this category of “I should do it, but it sucks so I shy away from it”? You’d be amazed at how accomplished you can feel after a small victory like standing in a freezing cold shower for 1 minute (and physically you feel great after!).

Next time you’re putting that training plan together, look at what you have going on to develop your mental strength. Think about what extra efforts you can put so when the going gets tough your mind doesn’t quit on you but, rather, you come out crushing your goal.

Run Free!

Mel & Jon

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.