Transforming you into a fit, strong athlete

7 Traits of Mentally Tough Runners and Triathletes

Do you have one or several of the seven key traits of mentally tough runners?

More importantly, do you know what makes runners mentally tough, especially when workouts or races are not going as planned? Do you know the best way to develop resilience in tight situations? To answer these questions, you must first understand what mental toughness means to a runner.

What is mental toughness for runners?


Mental toughness is the capacity to reliably perform at your peak regardless of external conditions, distractions or internal emotions.

Psychologists have developed a collection of key traits and habits that define mental toughness.

The good news is that you do not have to be born with mental toughness. Mental toughness is an acquired trait. You don’t have to go through a life-threatening experience to gain it. You can learn to be mentally tough through your workouts every day. You will be challenged several times to persist with moving forward and reach your goal. The more you learn, the more mental toughness you gain.

What are the qualities of the mentally tough runner?

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Here are some of the most common themes psychologists have observed among runners who succeed. There are several key traits that make up mental toughness. Regardless of where you are in your training, you can become a mentally tough runner and make this play to your strengths.

Resilience: The ability to bounce back from adversity, pain or a poor performance. The mentally tough runner is able to realize and admit a mistake, understand a missed opportunity, isolate the lesson, and quickly move on to focus on the immediate goal ahead.

Focus: The ability to focus in the face of distractions or unexpected situations. The mentally tough runner doesn’t avoid situations, but rather addresses them immediately. For instance, when you’re in the last miles of the marathon, you feel dead tired, you’re hurting, and you want to quit. That is the time to focus. You must say, “I must keep moving forward, just a few more miles to go.” And you’ll likely get to the finish line when you are mentally tough.

Strength: The ability to handle an unexpected turn of events and remain balanced and tranquil, continuing to be competitive. The mentally tough runner remains resilient and flexible, able to respond to any situation that arises.

Preparation: The ability to forestall situations ahead of time and feel prepared so there is a plan of action for anything that might happen. The mentally tough runner doesn’t become anxious in a crisis (falling back in a race or a workout, for example). For instance, you may be in a race, and your opponent moves in front of you. You have a method to stay mentally calm, adjust your pace, and follow through with your plan.

Vision: The ability to keep moving forward with your objective, even when there are no direct signs of getting closer to the finish line. The mentally tough runner creates a clear image of the goal, visualizes it often, and keeps that image in the forefront no matter what. You imagine all the possible scenarios, and have a plan for moving through each one effectively.

Openness: The ability to learn and be open to all possibilities. The mentally tough runner is willing to listen and take feedback, knowing that’s where real changes take place. You listen to that inner voice that says, “I can do this. I have all the tools and resources inside to create my own success.”

Trust: The ability to have faith in oneself. The mentally tough runner learns to trust that the body will know what to do when it’s race time. You trust in your training and your plan. You trust in your trainer. You believe in yourself, even when there is no one nearby to improve your confidence. You go with what you know, even when your support system is not present at the race. You stay mentally tough and keep moving forward, even when the finish line seems far away. You must say, “Every step brings me closer to my goal.”


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