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Mental Strength

Train your body, but forget to train your MIND at your peril.

We have all heard the adage ‘running ultras is 30% physical and 70% mental’, but how many of us really consider what this means? It means that in order to complete and compete in ultra races we need to be physically fit but over and above that we need to have trained our minds for the task in hand. The many hours of pounding trails during training is not only required to prepare our bodies but is also necessary to hone our minds.

Most online training programmes and coaches tell you to run x miles and have you checking in with your Garmin for pace and heart rate zones. This is indeed all very well and necessary but not many of them will discuss the importance of the mental gains from each session? If we are unaware of this, how can we possibly maximise the use of our greatest asset when it comes to ultra running?

Countless studies have shown that it’s your mind set that will ultimately determine how well you perform. Your race performance is partly dictated by how fast and long your mind thinks your body can go. What it believes it can sustain. It has been shown in studies that when an athlete quits a test, citing exhausted muscles, they are in fact capable of continuing but the mind has pulled the pin. The mind does this in an attempt to protect the body, to minimise the damage and impact on it. It ‘pulls the pin’ long before we really need to stop from true exhaustion. It will set its parameters based on past experience which has been gained through the hours of training and past races.

Training prepares the body but the single best indicator of relative readiness to achieve your race goal is confidence. Mo Farah or Paula Radcliff never doubt their physical ability or their ability to succeed. So developing confidence is a large part of training. Training plans must focus on building this.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you always stay within your limits or make it easy. You won’t see gains if you do. A good coach will challenge you but be sure that the session is within your grasp. Something just slightly beyond your ability will allow you to gain confidence in yourself and push the boundaries a little further next time. Thereby moving towards your goals with positivity and without injury.

Dave Scott – six time ironman champion – an in article on says ‘I knew going into a race that my confidence would help to support a fast day and successful outcome.’ It was after transitioning from coaching himself to coaching others that he says he ‘ knew the best place to start was to establish and build upon an athletes confidence level. The technical stuff is secondary if you don’t have inner drive, mental edge and physical foundation to take the leap.’

So be mindful next time you do a session that your primary focus might be on developing muscles strength or speed but your brain is similarly being trained we cannot separate the two. The adage I use with my clients “once you believe you can, then you will.” rings true here.


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