Redemption Year

Mental Strength: 4 ways to stay positive during training

“Hardships often prepare extraordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”  – C.S. Lewis

This week during yoga, I took a card from the affirmation box, a creative tool meant to give inspirational and motivational quotes that support your practice. Like a fortune cookie for yogis.

During this class, the first after a very rough week, I was dealt a card with the quote above.

“Hardships often prepare extraordinary people for an extraordinary destiny,”  said by C.S. Lewis.

It was my first class after receiving news that one of my best friends from college, who had undergone chemotherapy for 6 months, learned her cancer was recurrent and that she would have to continue treatments.

It was also my first class after receiving news that I was waitlisted from my first and only pick for business school.

Two less than stellar pieces of news within 24 hours.

It was a bad week.

Yet seeing this card reminded me that nothing worth fighting for comes easy.

Would I have loved for both of these challenges to be easier? Absolutely. Colleen doesn’t deserve a longer fight and I have high career goals that include going to this school.

BUT now Colleen is just further racking up her karmic chips for something amazing in the future and, once I get into grad school, there will be no question that I will have earned it. Because we are fighting our way into something better in the future.

And what we will take away from these experiences are not for naught.

Whether it’s getting through life’s challenges or a workout’s, you can develop your mental strength the same way you can develop your physical strength.


How to Improve Your Mental Strength

Race Day can be overwhelming. It’s been a goal you’ve worked towards for months and may be a distance you’ve never run before. Here are some tips to help you manage stress on race day, training days, or any day you need a little extra support.


Control your breathing.

It is easy to feel some anxiety about the distance ahead. Whether it’s before race day, as the starting gun goes off, or even .2 miles away from the finish. Races can be stressful. Breathing helps you manage that stress.

Gain control of your breath by consciously focusing on your inhales and exhales. First off, thinking about your breath pushes whatever stressful thoughts you are having to the side, even if only for a moment. Secondly, you notice where your air is coming from: are you breathing through your nose or your mouth?

By inhaling through your mouth, you are also triggering your nervous system, reminding it of the physiological effect of being stressed and put in fight-or-flight mode. While you are definitely in ‘flight’ mode, your ‘flight’ is not a quick sprint. Instead of a short burst of hormones and fast energy, you need something that is useful for your hours to come.

Breathe in through your nose instead. Through your nose, deep into your belly, and out through your mouth. This has a more calming effect. Slow your breath and sync it up to your steps when you are running:  breathing in for three or four steps and out for three steps. This can help you remain calm and focused, regardless of where you are in your race.



Keep your mindset positive.

This ties in with your breath as well since when your breathing is out of whack, your thoughts may stray, too. “I’m freaking out.” “I’m messing up.” “I can’t do this,” etc.

Well, for another great quote: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Don’t give negativity the opportunity to seep into your mind and direct your body. Energize your mind with positive thoughts. Whatever positive though you can bring up at that moment, think it. Mantras help. If there’s one that speaks to you, keep it handy. If you need something new, look around you and point out something, anything that is positive. Just cut the negativity train off in its tracks. Synchronize your positive thought or mantra with your footsteps and breathing and you’ll be flying.



See it to believe it.

You have to win in your mind before you can win in reality. You’ll never reach a finish line if you can’t see yourself crossing it.

Take a few moments, either during a run or in your downtime, and envision your race day. Add as many details as you can as well as envision the good things and how you will conquer the bad or unexpected.

It might be in a new city you’ve never seen, it might be a race you’ve never done. It doesn’t matter. You know what streets and a finish line generally look like. See yourself conquering it – in whatever kind of superhero suit you want to wear and with all of your powers – and mentally practice crossing that finish line. Not only will you probably want it more (I’m looking at you grad school!) but you are taking the first steps at making it a reality.

Once your mind believes, your body will start to, too.

“If I can dream it, then I can do it.”



Set the right goals.

Remember when you signed up for this? Why did you do it? When you feel like quitting, think about why you started. This goal meant something to you then so remind yourself of that reason now.

Every big goal has mini goals that you have to hit to reach the biggie. Celebrate them. There are some days where I celebrate just putting my shoes on at all.

Give yourself that moment and that space for self-five, a happy dance, or a knock-your-friend-over whoorah!

When you check off these small victories, it keeps you more positive overall.


This week was full of motivational quotes to get me through, as you can see from the post above. But use whatever resources you have to your advantage.

I loved how Runner’s World Coach Jenny said it so I’ll wrap things up by leaving you with this (emphasis mine):

If you can integrate this mental, emotional, and spiritual training into your buildup and your racing, you are going to develop faster and meet your goals more effectively because you are bringing more of yourself—not just your legs and lungs—to the table.

Stay scrappy my friends.


Bonus: Competitor’s 7 traits of mentally tough runners if you’re interested.

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