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How to stay mentally strong and positive during workouts and races?

In sports, to perform well you need your body and your mind. Those two elements work as a pair, your brain sends information to your muscles to allow a contraction, and your muscles and organs send information back about the environment and their functioning.

We commonly understand mental strength as pure determination, but that is not entirely true. Mental strength is your capacity to overcome.

Training allows us to prepare our body, generations of scientists and athletes have worked on the most efficient ways get fit. But, if your body is at 100% and your mental at 50%, you might only race at 50 or 70% of your abilities.

So how do we overcome? How do we face all the pain, stress, tiredness, blisters, muscle pain, failure, social media pressure, bad performances, injuries…?

Can we train our capacity to overcome? There are techniques as visualization, mantras and mental imagery. To master them you need to understand why you want to reach a goal, it is personal to each of us.

You have two types of motivations. If it comes from yourself, we talk about intrinsic motivation and if it comes from others we talk about extrinsic motivation. Keep in mind that we are all affected in some degree by every kind of motivation, it is important that you understand and accept your own. Our triggers can also be different during training, racing or time off.

  • Intrinsic motivation: Internal

  • Desire to reach a goal, achieve a time

  • Development of skills to overcome a difficulty

  • Rehearsal of successful habits until they are perfect

  • A feeling of pride and enjoyment in progression

  • Extrinsic motivation: Outside

  • Tangible rewards: Rewards such as medals and money. Winning a prize or ranking well is more important than competing well

  • Intangible rewards: Praise and recognition

Even when we understand our motivations, why is it so hard to be positive?

Usually the higher your motivation trigger is, the harder it is to reach it. To succeed you need to either get better or push yourself harder, along the way you may face many negative impulses, such as doubt and failure. A negative impulse is a “stress”, they can be internal or external.

  • Intrinsic stress: Internal

  • Race goal stress

  • Pain

  • Exhaustion

  • Workout stress (tiredness, fear of failure)

  • Trouble to finish a key session

  • Tiredness affecting all your day

  • Extrinsic stress: Outside

  • Others opinion

  • Pressure of family

  • Heavy schedule

  • Being overtaken

You understand that being mentally strong requires a good management of motivations, in order to overcome stresses.

How can we reduce the amount of stress we face?


  • Surround yourself with positive (pictures, memories, people…)

  • Express your fears

  • Transform difficulties into challenges

  • Avoid stressful situations (avoid pre-race dinners where others can affect you)

  • Be modest!

  • Have a mantra

  • Keep living! Keep a balance between sport and personal life.

  • There is positive in failure, learn from it.

  • Be happy with your achievements.

  • Look at your overall progress when a session got the best out of you

  • Set SMARTER goals:

  • Smart

  • Measurable

  • Agreed

  • Realistic

  • Time related

  • Exciting

  • Recorded

I will share with you a few tricks I use:

I would rate my motivation as 80% intrinsic, 20% extrinsic. My goal is to feel strong and in control of my effort while running/racing. I also enjoy finishing well ranked, others times allow me to rate the quality of my effort.

When I look at my stresses they are 20% intrinsic and 80% extrinsic: Highly competitive people affect me a lot, I don’t enjoy being compared or challenged. I worry about what people will think about me if I fail, I feel pressure even more since I am coach.

So how do I face the stress?

In training: I believe training makes me stronger, if other can reach great fitness, so can I. I repeat to myself “Perform this training sessions correctly, you will be stronger”

In races: I avoid long talks with fellow competitors before a race. I try to race alone, I always end up between two groups. I repeat to myself, “what is a few hours of pain compared to the weeks of satisfaction following an achievement”.

One quote to summarise this topic:

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

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