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Mastering Mental Strength

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail"

Benjamin Franklin

I know, I have written about mental strength before, but it is so important and impacts so many things we do. Mental strength does not only impact ultra or long distance running, but all aspect of our lives. It is important to practice our mental strength techniques regularly, so when things do not go quite as we had planned, we can turn them around and come out the other side.

Photo at the Bugaboos.

Focusing on running, we can improve and work on our fitness to the best of our ability. You can also see results and see improvements very easily. But if, and more than likely when, adversity hits us during a long run or race, do we crumble and fall apart because we have never worked on our mental strength? Or do we rise up to the challenge and work our way out of it? Ignoring working on our mental strength misses a fundamental aspect of training.

Mental strength is important in helping us achieve our potential and cope when unexpected situations happen or just when times get tough. So plan a few of these sessions into your training and let me know how you get on. One good tip is to cut a run short by 5 - 10 minutes and spend this time working on your mental strength. I know from experience that not doing this work before a race or long run can really be detrimental to your success and enjoyment. Just turning up and expecting to perform is kind of an insult to the 100 miler events. I have done that and funnily enough three letters appeared after my name.

Mental strength is so important in helping us achieve our potential and cope when unexpected situations happen or just when times get tough.

So try some of these ideas to help you master your mental strength.

Get comfortable feeling / being uncomfortable.

Pushing through fatigue is key in ultra running and marathons. Learning techniques where you can move through pain, even acknowledging it and then identify what feels great and continue to run is key. Keep monitoring your exertion levels so you are not working too hard. Also monitor your thoughts, are they negative? If so, this will slow you down, so try instead to put a smile on your face and work through it by repeating a positive phrase “Stay strong” or “You’re looking good”. (A word of caution, do not push through an injury and focus on living to train another day.)

Photo by Susan Flynn on Unsplash


Review your race details and work out a plan. Understand when and where the Aid Stations are situated. Look at the big climbs you will have to do or the harder legs. Now start visualizing these and not just picturing them, but really spend time, feeling, seeing and actually being there. Mentally rehearse your performance, not just a one off, but add it to your plan and complete this 2-3 times a week.

Mentally rehearse your performance, not just as a one off, but add it to your training plan and complete 2-3 times a week.

Positive self talk.

Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself and work on positive self talk. Believe in yourself.


Have you ever watched the elites during an ultra race? They all have one thing in common (above the amazing fitness level!!) They are inevitably are smiling. Smiling is known to cause the brain to release endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters reduce our stress and anxiety levels, helping us to perform at our best. So try smiling the next time you are on a run.

Reduce the anxiety by breaking that cycle.

I have entered races where I have become so nervous that it affects my mood, sleep and eating. This is certainly not the best preparation for an ultra race. Some level of excitement and anxiety is good to get your body and mind ready for your event. However, when this becomes detrimental to your performance because you have triggered the sequence of responses that lead to the difficulty eating or sleeping, it is very hard to stop. And it is as I have been there!! So your KEY action is to stop this sequence from getting out of hand. Work on being in the “here and now”. Focus on driving this anxiety into positive thoughts and performing well. And really what is the worst that can happen? And if it does, what are you going to do to cope?

Because you know you can cope and you know you can do it!

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