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Mental resilience when running: 10 practical tips

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Embarking on a running journey is not just about your physical capabilities – it’s a mental challenge as well.

When I started training for my first half marathon, I quickly found that mental resilience when running and was a crucial aspect of my training.

It’s true when you first start running, you convince yourself that you’re not capable of going the whole distance.

But with the right mindset, you can conquer any distance!

In fact, various studies have shown that distance runners have significantly and meaningfully higher mental toughness than athletes from other sports.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re at the start of your own running journey, this guide will provide you with some practical tips to help you cultivate mental resilience.

The road ahead might seem challenging, but mental resilience will push you forward!

We’ll look at:

  • Understanding mental resilience
  • How to build mental resilience when running: 10 practical tips

Ready?

Let’s go!

mental resilience when running

Understanding mental resilience

Before delving into any practical tips, let’s grasp the essence of mental resilience.

Simply put, it’s the ability to bounce back from challenges, setbacks and hurdles.

As a beginner runner, you’ll encounter moments when your body urges you to stop and your inner voice questions your capabilities.

Mental resilience is what will help you override these obstacles and reach new milestones.

Building mental resilience as a beginner female runner is an ongoing process that is closely related with your physical training.

By setting realistic goals, embracing challenges, cultivating positive habits and surrounding yourself with a supportive community, you’ll develop the mental toughness needed to conquer any distance.

Remember, the journey is as important as the destination!

Every step you take is a testament to your growing strength and resilience.

Related: Mental strength when running: What running has taught me about inner strength

mental resilience when running

Related: The magic of the easy run: Why they are crucial for stronger and happier running

How to build mental resilience when running: 10 practical tips

Over the last 15 years as a runner and running coach, I’ve found what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to building mental resilience.

If I knew these tips at the start of my running journey, then I would’ve saved myself a lot of setbacks and heartbreak.

But in a way I wouldn’t change the last 15 years because running is all about self-discovery and finding out what you’re capable of (and not capable of).

Here are my top 10 practical tips for building mental resilience when running:

#1 Set realistic goals

One of the foundations of mental resilience is setting achievable goals.

While it’s exhilarating to dream big, starting small is the key to long term success.

Break down your running journey into realistic milestones, both in terms of distance and pace.

So, if you’re a beginner runner, your first running milestone will likely be a 5k.

Understand what is realistic in terms of you achieving this goal – and be specific!

For example, instead of saying:

  • I want to run a 5k.

Instead say:

  • I want to run a 5k in less than 35 minutes in 10 weeks by [DATE/MONTH].

Once you have set your goal, celebrate each achievement, no matter how minor, to boost your confidence and reinforce your mental toughness.

Related: Fuelling your run: A female runner’s guide to nutrition and running performance

#2 Embrace the learning curve

Every beginner faces a learning curve when they start running.

Understand that the initial struggles are part of the process, not indicators of failure.

I remember when I first starting running, I thought I wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t run more than 100 metres without getting out of breath.

Now I look back on that time, I realise I was being way too hard on myself.

It’s important you embrace the challenges, learn from them and remember that setbacks are opportunities for growth.

By adopting a positive perspective, you’ll develop the mental resilience needed to persist through the tough times.

Related: 6 mental tips for long runs

#3 Develop a positive mantra

The power of positive affirmations should not be underestimated.

Many professional athletes swear by positive affirmations.

Create a mantra that resonates with you and empowers you during runs.

It could be as simple as “I am strong” or “I can do this.”

Repeat your mantra when the going gets tough and let it serve as a reminder of your inner strength.

Over time, this positive self-talk will become a powerful tool in your mental resilience arsenal.

Related: Self-confidence and athletic performance: The one tip that professional athletes swear by

#4 Practice mindfulness

Running is not just a physical activity – it’s an opportunity to connect with your mind and body.

Practice mindful running by focusing on your breath, the rhythm of your steps and the sensation of movement.

You might even want try running without a watch to really unplug on your run.

This not only enhances your overall running experience but also helps build mental resilience by training your mind to stay present and positive.

Related: How to believe in yourself: Running and self confidence

mental resilience when running

#5 Cultivate a support system

Surround yourself with a supportive community of fellow runners.

Join local running clubs or online communities where you can share your experiences, ask for advice and draw inspiration from others.

Having a support system can significantly impact your mental resilience.

You’ll find encouragement and motivation during both the highs and lows of your running journey.

Related: 10 running clubs changing the world one step at a time

#6 Visualise success

Visualisation is a powerful technique to enhance mental resilience – many professional athletes swear by it!

Before each run, take a moment to visualise yourself successfully completing the route.

Picture the finish line, feel the sense of accomplishment and visualise the positive emotions associated with achieving your goals.

This mental rehearsal prepares your mind for success, making it more resilient when faced with challenges.

Related: The power of a running community: How to find your tribe

#7 Embrace the process

Running is not just about reaching the destination – it’s about enjoying the journey.

Embrace the process of improvement and don’t be too fixated on immediate results.

Acknowledge the small victories, whether it’s running an extra minute or maintaining a consistent pace.

By appreciating the progress you make, you’ll develop a resilient mindset that thrives on continuous improvement.

Related: Running by feel: 5 life-changing benefits of running without a watch

#8 Learn to manage discomfort

Running involves a degree of discomfort, especially as you push your boundaries.

Instead of viewing discomfort as a roadblock, see it as a sign of growth.

Learn to differentiate between pain that signals potential injury and the discomfort that comes with pushing your limits.

Managing discomfort is a skill that, when mastered, contributes significantly to mental resilience.

Related: How to start running again after an injury: 5 tips for success

mental resilience when running

#9 Reflect on your achievements

Many runners are too focused on what’s next on their running journey, when in fact it’s a great confidence boost when you acknowledge and reflect on how far you’ve come.

Keep a running journal to document your achievements, no matter how small!

This retrospective reinforces the mental resilience you’ve built over time.

Celebrate your progress and use it as a source of inspiration for future challenges.

Related: Running through the decades: What to expect in your 20s, 30s and 40s as a female runner

#10 Be kind to yourself

Finally, remember to be kind to yourself.

As a beginner runner, you’re navigating uncharted territory and it’s okay to encounter difficulties.

Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer a friend facing a challenge.

Self-compassion is a cornerstone of mental resilience!

By fostering a positive attitude, it will carry you through the inevitable ups and downs of your running journey.

Related: Run happy: 6 mental health benefits of running

Caroline Geoghegan
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