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Mental Toughness is Doing the Hard Thing When No One is Watching

by | Jul 31, 2023

This article was read 1213 times. Enjoy!

Mental Toughness: Doing the Hard Thing When No One is Watching


As an experienced endurance runner, I’ve learned that mental toughness is the key to pushing through the toughest challenges, especially when there’s no one around to cheer you on. It’s about having the inner strength to persevere, to stay committed, and to keep moving forward even when the going gets tough. In this article, I’ll dive deep into the concept of mental toughness and share my insights and experiences on how it applies to running and life in general.

The Power of Mental Toughness

When it comes to running, mental toughness is often the difference between a good performance and a great one. It’s what allows us to maintain focus and determination, even when we hit that dreaded wall during a marathon or an ultra-endurance run. Mental toughness is the fuel that keeps us going, no matter the obstacles we face.

Picture this: you’re halfway through a gruelling race, and your legs are burning, your breath is heavy, and doubt starts to creep in. It’s at this point that mental toughness becomes the game-changer. By drawing on the reservoirs of mental strength you’ve built through training and experience, you can push through the pain and find that second wind.

Example: During a recent 100-mile ultramarathon, I hit a low point around mile 75. My body was exhausted, and negative thoughts flooded my mind. However, I reminded myself of the countless hours of training I had invested in and the previous running challenges I had conquered. By focusing on my training and past successes, I found the mental strength to pick up my pace and finish strong, crossing the finish line with a sense of accomplishment like never before.

Building Mental Toughness

Mental toughness isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but the good news is that it can be developed and strengthened through consistent effort. Here are some strategies I’ve used to build my mental resilience:

  1. **Set Clear Goals:** Having clear, realistic goals helps you stay focused and motivated, especially when the going gets tough. Break down your larger running goals into smaller, achievable milestones, and celebrate each accomplishment along the way.
  2. **Positive Self-Talk:** The way we talk to ourselves matters. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” tell yourself, “I am strong, and I can overcome any challenge.”
  3. **Visualization:** Before a race, take some time to visualize yourself succeeding. Imagine crossing the finish line strong and triumphant. Visualization helps you build confidence and mentally prepares you for the race ahead.
  4. **Embrace Discomfort:** Endurance running is all about embracing discomfort and pushing your limits. During training, intentionally put yourself in challenging situations to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  5. **Develop Resilience:** Setbacks are a natural part of any journey, including running. Learn from your failures, adapt, and bounce back stronger. Resilience is a hallmark of mental toughness.

Example: To build my mental resilience, I started setting specific time goals for my training runs. At first, I struggled to meet them, but I kept pushing and gradually improved. As I surpassed my goals, I gained confidence and began setting more ambitious targets. Eventually, this mental fortitude translated into my races, allowing me to perform better even under challenging conditions.

Staying Strong When No One is Watching

One of the defining aspects of mental toughness is the ability to stay committed and disciplined even when there’s no one around to witness your efforts. When it’s just you and the open road, no spectators are cheering you on or competitors to keep pace with. It’s during these solitary moments that your mental strength is truly tested.

Example: During a long solo training run in the rain, I felt tempted to cut the run short and head home. But I reminded myself that running in adverse conditions builds mental toughness. So, I continued the run, focusing on each step rather than the discomfort. By the end, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and knew that I had become mentally stronger.

The Role of Discipline

Discipline is the bedrock of mental toughness. It’s what keeps us going when motivation wanes. Discipline means sticking to your training plan, even on days when you’d rather hit the snooze button or skip a workout entirely. It means resisting distractions and staying focused on your running goals.

Example: One of the ways I maintain discipline is by setting a weekly training schedule and treating it like any other appointment. I commit to follow through on each training session, no matter what, and I hold myself accountable for any deviations.

The Mental Game of Endurance Races

In endurance races, the mental game is just as critical as the physical one. Whether it’s a marathon or an ultramarathon, there are bound to be moments of doubt and struggle. Mental toughness is what helps you navigate through those challenging phases and emerge on the other side stronger and more resilient.

Example: During a particularly gruelling 100 km run, I hit a mental wall around 60 km. Doubts flooded my mind, and I felt on the verge of giving up. However, I reminded myself of all the hard work I had put into training and how much I loved running. Drawing on my mental reserves, I found the strength to keep pushing forward and ultimately finished the run with a renewed sense of determination.


Mental toughness is the foundation upon which endurance runners thrive. It’s what enables us to overcome physical discomfort, push through the toughest challenges, and reach new heights in our running journey. By setting clear goals, practicing positive self-talk, visualizing success, embracing discomfort, and cultivating resilience, we can build our mental fortitude and become unstoppable forces on the road or trail.

Remember, mental toughness isn’t just confined to running; it extends to every aspect of life. So, whether you’re facing a personal or professional challenge, tap into your mental strength, and know that you have the power to conquer anything.

Patrick Michel

Endurance Runner – Marketing Strategist

Patrick Michel is a Montreal-based endurance runner specializing in long-distance multi-stage charity ultra runs. For almost two decades, he has inspired many to engage in running, get fit and grow stronger physically and mentally. He has also written many articles about running.