Setting Yourself Up for Success – Part III: Mental Toughness

Setting Yourself Up for Success – Part III: Mental Toughness

gina_kona-1Early in the year I started a series on setting yourself up for 2016. I laid out the four training components that most successful athletes had in common:

  1. Consistency in their training
  2. Workout execution and purposeful training
  3. Mental toughness, confidence and belief in themselves and their training
  4. The ability to maintain a positive attitude

In my first article I went back to the basics in simply giving tips on how to set up consistency in training as this is the number one component for a successful season.  In my second article I discussed workout execution and knowing and understanding the purpose of a given workout. In this final article I will discuss mental toughness that needs to happen in order to have successful workouts and races.

Mental toughness: what is it? When it comes to endurance sports you can ask any top performer what makes up his or her physical training. The answers will usually include bike mileage, wattage numbers and hours of training per week; all of which will have you thinking you need to train more. However, when you dig deeper into the winners you also learn they have experiences like their mind being blank or feeling nothing and being able to visualize images that keep them relaxed or motivated during races. How do they defer the pain they feel or the negative thoughts they create? How do they push through fear of failure or fear of success? There is only one answer.

Practice. They practice not being afraid. They practice and they fail repeatedly. Top performers are not afraid of pain, discomfort or failure. They embrace it. Do they want it? No. But they do embrace it.  

I find the hardest part of coaching is teaching not being afraid. During my triathlon career I learned several World Champions and Olympians I knew all had one thing in common. They failed. People like Barb Lindquist, Shelia Taromina and Siri Lindley all failed at races. All of them came back to become World Champions and Olympians. By failing they actually gave themselves the opportunity to learn more about where their limits were; they learned how to suffer. Mental toughness is learning how to suffer and not be afraid to fail doing so.

How does one become mentally tough? Becoming mentally tough is learned by one way and one way only: You just have to do it. You must learn to deal with the toughness. When the lactate is burning — you don’t let up — you deal with it.  When your legs ache from fatigue you do not stop, you deal with it. The human body can handle much more than we give it but the head will be the one to hold the human body back.  

They key to pushing is to remove the emotion that comes with the fear. You also must believe in your training. Workouts are put in programs to test yourself. If you do not believe in your training your mind will not be open to accept the success you will gain from the workout. You must stay calm and push on.

I wish I could tell you the answer was different. Sports psychologists will give you strategies to push through fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of whatever is holding you back here. Those are great and need to be implemented. However, they only help if you apply the strategies to push past yourself in training. You must make the choice to suffer. Simply said, just do it. The mind controls what you feel and don’t feel. Isn’t it amazing how you think you are a dead man walking during a race and then in the last miles you can all of a sudden feel good enough to run your fastest? Your mind made a choice and your body executed it.

Categories: Mind, Training

About Author