This month’s Training Thursday feature: Mental Strategies for Challenging Workouts

Contributed by Kate O’Neill Tenforde, Focus-n-Fly

Training for a marathon is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. Following the strategies below will help you get through your most challenging workouts and prepare both your body and mind to take on 26.2 or 13.1 miles in January.

1. Take one step at a time.

Break tough workouts into manageable pieces. Take a hard workout one interval at a time. When you conquer a piece, celebrate for a moment and then focus on the next piece. Buoyed by the sense of accomplishment from earlier in the workout, you’ll be at your goal distance before you know it, and you will have built up a reservoir of confidence for the next challenge.

2. Take as many variables out of the equation as possible.

No, you can’t control everything, but you can control some of the small details: pre-workout meal, post-workout meal, favorite T-shirt, etc. that can add up to make a big effect on your training. Find a routine by experimenting with fueling and clothing approaches on easy days, so that you are confident in your choices on hard days.

3. Prepare in advance with positive self-talk.

There will come a time when the run or workout will require more than your average effort. To help prepare yourself for those days, take time to consider what the key items you will remind yourself of when that time comes.  Do your shoulders hunch and get tight when you are tired? Try to relax your shoulders for 30 seconds at a time when that occurs. Does your breathing get too shallow? Commit beforehand to taking several long and deep breaths. What types of encouragement have helped you succeed in running or in life generally – tough, barking orders or soothing, positive words? Prepare with these phrases to remind your body that you and your mind are in control.

4. Create accountability and a reward.

Enlist others to push you towards achieving your training goals. Some people find that training in a group keeps them motivated. Others are training with an emotional motivation, such as to honor a friend or to note one of life’s milestones. If so, one strategy would be to create a visual reminder around the house to keep track of the steps or miles you are logging on the way to that goal. This will remind you and the people around you of the big goal ahead.

On a lighter note, it is ok to concede to the occasional treat for motivation.  This could be an espresso, a meal at your favorite restaurant or a pedicure for your marathon-worn toes.  Think of this reward as you travel toward the conclusion of your miles that day.

Remember, doing every single difficult workout to perfection doesn’t guarantee a perfect race, and falling short a time or two does not mean you won’t succeed. Every challenging workout you complete will make you mentally stronger and more prepared for when the going gets tough on race day.

What keeps you going on those tough training days? Share your thoughts in the comments below!