How To Be A Mentally Tougher Runner

Building resilience into your running
◷ 3 minute read. In a hurry? Scroll down for our 60-second summary


We all have days where we’re just not up for it, when we wonder why we put ourselves through the pain and discomfort, when we get beaten by people we’d usually leave trailing and we don’t know why we bothered turning up. As well as strengthening the legs, a runner also needs to strengthen their mind. Here are a few tips to help get you through those more difficult days.

Have Short, Medium And Long Term Goals

It’s going to be really difficult to get yourself out of bed on those winter mornings without motivation. Set yourself targets which are SMARTER;

S – Specific – What is the race you would like to run?
M – Measurable – What time would like to run it in? Or would you just like to run a set distance without stopping
A – Achievable – If you worked hard, could you definitely do this?
R – Recorded – Tell people you’re doing it. Put in social media. Hire an ice cream van and drive around your neighbourhood announcing it on their PA system. You can’t back out now!
T – Time-bound – ‘I’d like to run a marathon one day’ or ‘I’d like to run 5k in under 25 minutes’ doesn’t give you the motivation that a deadline would.
E – Exciting – If your goal doesn’t excite you, choose another one. If the Manchester Marathon doesn’t do it for you, how about the Honolulu Marathon instead? (No offence Manchester.)
R – Rewarded – You deserve a prize for hitting your goal. The bigger the goal, the bigger the prize

Don’t forget big targets need to be broken down into smaller targets: If you’d like to run a 50 minute 10K, then you may wish to work on your speed with a target of a 24 minute 5k. Then you might try to get that down to 23:30. This is the type of thing you can do to help your longer term goal become more realistic.

Don’t Stop Until You’ve Done It

If you set out to do 10x800m repeats and you feel tired after nine – resist the urge to stop, thinking ‘I’ve done 90% of the session’. You’ve done 90% of the distance but you haven’t done 90% of the effort. That last rep will require more effort that the others and will give you more reward. That last rep is where you earn your money. The only reason you ran the first nine reps was to get to the last rep. Don’t stop until you’ve done it.

Deal With The Unexpected

So the race organisers said it was a ‘PB course’ and it turns out to be really hilly! The ‘road race’ unexpectedly takes a turning across a field. Your 10 mile training run is interrupted by a heavy rain shower that was nowhere to be seen on the weather forecast. Why is everyone lying to you?!? Running, just like life in general, will throw up these unexpected hurdles. Everyone has to face them. The difference is how you deal with them. Do this well and you’ll finish the run feeling doubly proud.

Don’t Let Bad Runs Get You Down

You’ve been training well, you turn up for the race convinced you’re in PB shape – and you have a really average run. Sometimes these things happen. Perhaps you were trying too hard. Maybe you were fighting off a virus you didn’t know you had. You haven’t become a bad, or average, runner overnight. Pick yourself up, keep training hard and have another go.

Remember That Your Mental Strength As A Runner Is Reflected As Your Mental Strength In Life

When you finish your first marathon, you change as a person. You may not have demonstrated the resilience you showed to get to the end before. If you can be strong, refuse to give in and see out a really tough experience in one walk (or run) of life, you can do it in others.

what you need to do
  • Set yourself a stretching but achievable long term goal, then break that into smaller shorter term goals – this way you can see your path to success

  • Finish your training sessions. You wouldn’t drop out of a race with 400m to go, would you?

  • If things take a turn for the worse in a race or training run, pride yourself with how well you can overcome this adversity

  • If you have a great run, you don’t suddenly genuinely believe you’ll be challenging for the win in the next London Marathon, do you? So why let bad runs go to your head?

  • Remember that overcoming adversities in running is helping give you the mental strength to overcome adversities in life in general

Share With Your Running Buddies!