Mental vs. Physical Toughness When Racing

Mental vs. Physical Toughness When Racing

There is often discussion surrounding physical and mental toughness. Questions such as which is more important and which will allow you to win more are frequently asked. However, many studies have shown that being highly trained and proficient in both is the key to success.

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What Is Physical Toughness?

Physically tough athletes are focused on fitness goals; they train hard, try to be faster and more robust than those around them, and improve their past performance. In simple terms, physical toughness is simply what your body can achieve: for example, how fast you can run or how long you can run.

What Is Mental Toughness?

On the other hand, mental toughness is something that can’t be trained in the gym or strengthened through working out or running. It is something that you have to develop and master within yourself over time. Mental toughness refers to having self-confidence, trusting your training, focusing on your goals and what you must do, and working through any diversity you may have during a race.

Mental Toughness Factors

Several factors contribute to mental toughness, as well as a few things you can do to improve yours.

Train Like It’s for Real

The first thing you should do is train with the same seriousness as on race day. Far too many athletes use training as a way to test new techniques and methods and end up wasting time and energy. When you are training, you must think of it like you are in a race. Focus on your speed and your breath, and stick to your training target. Many Kenyan marathon runners are famed for training at a near-record pace — a massive reason for their dominance in the sport.


running runner
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Self-confidence is key to one’s personal and professional success. And it is easily one of the most critical factors in mental toughness. Trusting yourself, your training, and your ability is vital to performing at your best. You can think about it like taking an exam; would you be more or less confident if you knew you had spent months studying for it?


Another aspect of mental toughness is the ability to zone in and focus on the task at hand. Too many people, especially during a race, won’t focus on what they need to do right now but instead on what they need to do in the future. While the latter is also important, you will get further and do better if you focus on the mile you are racing now. Are you on pace or not? If not, focus on that mile, the next, and so on. Focusing on smaller goals will keep you consistent throughout the race.


It doesn’t matter how much training you have if you don’t have the hunger to do well and win. Desire is about finishing first, beating the competition, and finishing as fast as possible. This hunger for victory can be crucial in blocking out being tired or sore and stopping you from wanting to quit.


Bouncing Back From Failure

As mentioned before, mental toughness is something you develop over time, and part of that journey is not letting failure get you down. There will be many races you don’t finish because of injury or a lack of preparation, and there will be just as many where you don’t end as well as you want to. Someone who is mentally tough has learned not to view these things as failures; they see them as lessons they can use to improve, train harder, and prepare better. There is a big difference between someone who views failure as a roadblock and someone who views it as a stepping stone.

The Ability To Calm Your Nerves

Nerves play a big part in how successful you can be as an athlete. Nerves can cause mistakes, force you to make bad decisions and doubt your abilities. Being able to remain calm and keep a clear head allows you to focus on the run ahead of you much better.


running runner
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Ignore the Competition

Finally, a mentally tough athlete can block out the competition and not compare themselves; just because someone looks fitter or stronger, it doesn’t mean they will certainly beat you, and it doesn’t always mean they are more prepared than you. Not to mention, much of the sense of achievement in any physical activity derives from personal accomplishment, which is not necessarily related to the successes of others.


While being physically tough is a given and part of race success, the real test is in your mental strength. Many coaches and trainers, whether in soccer, basketball, or athletics, have emphasized mental resilience, as physical strength won’t always compensate for mental weakness.


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