Running requires a few key components: a pair of running shoes, daily practice, and mental toughness. Although physical attributes as speed and power are important to winning, mental toughness may play just as equal or maybe a more important role. Mental toughness is widely used across multiple sports but it is one of the least understood terms. Some define mental toughness as the ability to cope with or handle pressure, stress, and adversity, others define it as an ability to overcome or rebound from failures.
As coaches stress the importance of mental toughness, the concept is engraved into a runner's mind. During a race, it can be defeating to see other runners run past, tiring as the race progresses, and very painful as the soreness and strain starts to kick in. Having positive thoughts and feelings will lead to better performance and confidence to keep running. Conversely, negative thoughts will lead to negative feelings and ragged runs.
In fact, usually athletes pace themselves by feel. Emotions during a race can be divided into two layers: how the athlete feels and how the athlete feels about how they feel. The first layer is completely physiological and affected by the pain whereas the latter is emotional. However, it is the athlete's conscious decision to either perceive these emotions positively or negatively. It is difficult to be happy about racing a dreadfully long 5k through blazing hot weather conditions and throbbing pain but the mental toughness plays a role. These sensations of fatigue are thoughts of the brain trying to force you to slow down and decrease the pain.
For any given level of discomfort, an athlete can either have a good or a bad attitude. However, when they have a positive attitude, they are less bothered and will most likely push harder during the race. Some people have the natural tendency to overlook the pain stimulus by acceptance, whereas others suppress these stimuli. The right attitude towards the race will use the energy efficiently to finish the race in a personal record. No one usually has a positive attitude towards running because it causes pain and stimulates a rush of emotions that tend to get the best of you. Our perception towards mental toughness recalls to our openness towards the idea.
At the starting line of my last cross country race, I began with an attitude that I was not going to do well because I felt like I was extremely sore and the weather was starting to warm up. Due to my past injuries earlier in the season, I did not expect much from myself; in fact, my only goal was to finish. Many of my teammates were worried about this race because none of them wanted me to push my limits and risk my health.
But, I still stepped to the starting line and then the race commenced. The first mile was fast and intense. The critical point of the race was coming up. When I reached the desolate sector of the course, I realized I was only halfway done and the harsh conditions were starting to agitate me. The sun seemed to be shining brighter and the pain in my legs was tearing me apart. At that point, I could have easily dropped out and called it a day. I remember thinking about the race as the last of my high school career and the outlet for me to let my summer's hard work pay off which made my perception change positively, pushing me through the second half of the race with a runner's high. I was able to finish with a new season record and top 20 in my race. After all the adversity I faced during the season with my medical conditions, my mental toughness strengthened me and finally yielded results that rewarded my hard work.
During a race or any form of exercise, chemicals are released by the brain and improve our mood and minimize our pain. These feelings of pleasure improve our attitude and perception towards running and motivates us to run faster. Runners need mental toughness to finish the race. It is the voice during the parts of the course that no one is cheering at that motivates you to keep running fast.