Putting it Into Practice - Real Runners and their Mental Strategy

By Iffley Road. Posted: April 18, 2017

Last week, we spoke to coach James Beckinsale about how to mentally prepare for a marathon.

It turns out there are a number of attitudes, methods, tricks and exercises one can practice in order to push through the mental barriers that may arise during a race. Here are just a few tips from our #TeamIffey ambassadors as well as some motivation from author and runner Haruki Murakami.


Tom - Smaller Challenges

I find that mental toughness is about breaking something down into smaller parts. If all you can think about before and during a race is how hard the distance is going to be, it's like standing at the bottom of a mountain and staring upwards.

Instead break a race down into smaller challenges. First, just worry about getting there. Then focus on the first milestone. If I'm running a marathon I just focus on getting to the first 10k, then halfway, then I break the final half into smaller sections. Not only does  it help minimise the challenge but mentally it helps you to gauge how your body should feel at each point.


Shaun - Focus & Confidence

Mental toughness is essentially confidence in oneself. Confidence in your training, race plan, and ability to do your best in that moment. Mentally​ tough people have incredible focus- ignoring distractions (competitors, the weather, those around them) and shutting out self doubt.

This self confidence extends to an ability to deal with disappointment when it happens. Bad runs don't make a bad runner! They trust themselves to make up for it next time!

Steve Skinner

Tim - Benchmarks

Ultras are all about mental toughness. So, I tend to set myself a benchmark of where I know I will finish, barring something horrendous happening. In a 100 miler this is around the 70 mile point- so I don't run 100 miles. I run 70 and then 30 more as daft to run 70 and then stop. I apply this to all distances.

If you can run a mile, you can run two and if you can run a marathon, you can run a 100 miler. You just have to stand on the start line knowing you have it in you.Ken Chlouber, Race Director of the iconic Leadville 100 sums it up best:

"You're better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can".

Tim Lambert

Steve - The ‘A’ race

Before a tough race I try to reflect on the training that I’ve completed in the build up.  I take confidence knowing I have done specific sessions whether that's at race pace or quicker/harder workouts on track. When I am gearing up for an "A" race it goes without saying that there will be minutes or miles where it is going to hurt but for me this is what it is all about.

The feeling of accomplishment and achieving a personal best is worth those moments of pain or struggle, it verifies that you have been training well and you are making progress. Overall I go into races excited to see what I can achieve, at the end of the day we choose to do this so embrace the pain.

Gill Sanders

Gill - That moment

The race is where you get to put all that hard training to use. If I don't give 100% in a race then I know that my training has been a waste of time and effort. It's easy to take the foot off the gas when it starts to hurt but that extra bit of hurt in that moment could make all the difference between a great result or a terrible result. So it's definitely worth telling myself to go through the hurt for those few moments no matter how bad it might feel at the time as this will ultimately be better than backing off, getting a substandard result and not make all those hard training hours worth it.

Haruki Murakami

"While I was enduring all this, around the forty-seventh mile I felt like I'd passed through something.  Like my body had passed clean through a stone wall.

I'm not a human. I'm a piece of machinery,  I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead." That's what I told myself.  That's all I thought about and that's what got me through....

After that I didn't have to think anymore...All I had to do was go with the flow and I'd get there automatically.  If I gave myself up to it, some sort of power would naturally push me forward...."

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