Mental Toughness


In this Running and the Science of Mental Toughness article from The MIT Press Reader, Mariska van Sprundel writes:

There is more to running than just training your muscles and improving your stamina. It is also a mental sport, and maybe even more so than previously believed.

To cope with the pain and discomfort, the runners used a variety of mental strategies, including breathing techniques and urging themselves on.

Vana Hunter, an expert on the mental health of top-class athletes, told Sprundel “If your muscles are a little bit more tense because you are nervous, this will have an effect on your movement efficiency. You will need more energy to achieve the same kind of forward motion. This is the biomechanical explanation of the role of psychology in performance. On the other side of the spectrum, nervous anxiety can result in negative thoughts and fear of failure.”

Motivation is a skill. It can be learned and practiced.

– Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon (source: The MIT Press Reader)

According to Hunter, mental toughness is a catch-all term without any well-defined meaning. “We associate mental toughness with the ability to deal with difficult situations. And it helps if you are armed with a wide range of coping mechanisms, as well as the creativity required to turn difficult situations to your advantage.”

Mariska van Sprundel closing advice:

Train your brain to combat fatigue. Go for a run after a long day at work or a bad night’s sleep. If you are about to enter a race, avoid all strenuous mental tasks beforehand and set yourself an ambitious but realistic goal, one that will motivate you. If you like to listen to music while running, pick songs whose rhythm will match your stride frequency.Your mind is a powerful tool to improve running performance. Raising your mental game is not something you do overnight, but it can be learned and practiced.