Training Mental Toughness

Since I started keeping a training journal, I’ve noticed a few key things about myself and my training that I hadn’t noticed before. Namely, motivation and its effects. Lately I’ve been having trouble finding the motivation to work out and even then, sometimes a wave of “who cares?” washes over me and I quit.

I reached out to some of my Volée teammates and was encouraged to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles with the “so what” of workouts sometimes.

For me, it’s also a matter of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. With running and workouts, running a race for a medal can be extrinsically motivating and I think that’s what prompts people to cheat. They want the fame and public admiration for winning or doing well, and it outweighs any inner reward for doing well. There are articles of people cheating to get into the Boston Marathon, cheating to win Ironmans, and cheating to break records.

Sometimes the extrinsic motivation helps me get through the race and over the finish line, and it can also be a reason why I sign up for the race in the first place, like with the Nike Women’s Half Marathon where the medal is a Tiffany & Co. necklace, or the promise of special challenge medals in runDisney races. But the danger is when that’s the only reason to take on challenges. At that point, you might as well just buy the medal online. I mean, they actually sell Boston Marathon medals on eBay, you don’t even need to run the race. That’s what one woman did this past year.

Granted, I only ran the Boston Marathon shadow race, but I ran a full marathon and at 5,600 feet and in a combat zone, and my name is listed in the results on the B.A.A. website so I feel justified in keeping my medal and hat and t-shirt.

That brings me to intrinsic motivation, which is my primary source of why I do anything – because I want to do it. I wanted to do the Bataan Memorial Death March in the military heavy category because it was hard and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to join the Marathon Maniacs because I was impressed with the challenge and wanted to do it. A shiny medal might be enough to draw me in or help me suck it up to the finish, but at the end of the day I do these things for myself and no one else. I do things because I want to do them.

Where I struggle is when my intrinsic motivation is running low and I’m trying to find the “so what” of my workouts.

The good news is that you can train your brain to be tougher, which helps with the intrinsic fortitude to get through and with the motivation to get started. Some of my Volée teammates use mantras like “All Day Long” or other positive refrains to focus on and drown out the noise. I’m also currently reading through The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow and he is big on visualization and other sports psychology techniques to help you reach your goals.

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