Nate Jenkins wrote about Mental Toughness last week and I think it's a good topic to explore a little further. After all, how successful can you be if you don't have mental toughness? (See previous posts on this topic here and here.)
Nate categorizes "mental toughness" into the following types:
- Toughness in training
- Workout toughness
- Race toughness
Toughness in training: This is, essentially, the ability to get out the door everyday. To run when you don't feel like running and to make it a good workout anyway. To be committed; to not give yourself the choice of opting out.
Workout toughness: This is the ability to push yourself to your limits in practice. To put in the level of effort you need to put in, given the goal of the workout. Unlike toughness in training, this is specific to what you are doing at the moment, not over the course of a season or training cycle.
Race toughness: This is the ability to withstand pain, to hang on the pace, to force your muscles to go one more step, and then another, and another. This requires that you stay focused, consume the pain, and be fully in the moment despite your mind's need to find distraction.
Three in One
On the one hand, these feel like different types of toughness. But I don't know that they are. I think they are only different on the surface. At heart, they are made up of the same three components--engagement, discipline, and pride--that make up the optimal training mindset, only the ratio of the attitudes is changing given the situation.
These three attitudes, combined with a belief that effort will lead to improvement, are the core of the champion's mindset. I would argue that one's mental toughness at any given time is the result of these three elements. What changes, however, is which attitudes are being relied upon more at any given moment.
For example, if we look again at Nate's three types of mental toughness, we can describe them as such:
Toughness in training: this is the ability to get out the door every day and put in a good workout. It is entirely dependent upon your level of engagement. Are you motivated and passionate enough that getting out the door is, for the most part, what you want to do? And in those times when it isn't, do you have the discipline and pride to will yourself to train, and then to train well?
Workout toughness: this is the ability to push yourself to your limits in workouts. It is definitely a combination of all three. You have to be fully engaged in the workout; you have to have the discipline to know when it is time to give it all and when it is time to reserve that energy; and you have to have the pride in yourself to not give in when it starts to hurt and there is no one there to see you ease up.
Race toughness: this is the ability get through the pain you put your body through in a race. This requires a heavy dose of pride, because races demand that you be as competitive as you are capable. But good races, particularly longer races, demand incredible amounts of discipline in the early stages, and a high level of engagement throughout the race if you are to be successful.
Mental Toughness in You
So what does this mean for you? Well, first of all, it means you are most certainly mentally tough. But maybe not like your friends. Every person will be mentally tough in their own ways. Nate says in his blog that he doesn't have much "workout toughness". But he compensates with his "toughness in training" and "race toughness". I think my strength was "toughness in training", and for a short time, when I was really running well, I learned how to shift my attitudes to tap into my "workout toughness" and especially my "race toughness". (This was when I made that shift.)
But being low in one type of toughness and high in another shouldn't worry you. For two reasons: first, it's natural; and second, mental toughness is not a talent, but rather something that you can develop through focused effort. You'll remember I said there are four attitudes that make up the mindset of a champion. The first three are engagement, discipline and pride. The fourth is a belief in effort.
If you engage yourself in your running, discipline yourself in your execution, take pride in your every performance, and believe that through your hard work you will improve, then you have developed the mindset of a champion.
Now you need only apply that mindset to an intense training regimen for ten years and you'll be good to go!