After her wonderful silver medal at the Rennes 10k this weekend for England Athletics, we happy to share Hannah Irwin’s latest Fast10 article.
I suppose when I talk about having lots of mental strength in running, most would assume I am referring to the ability to push yourself to your limit during sessions, or to keep going for longer than you thought possible, but this isn’t quite what I am talking about.
When I think about strength of mind, I think about having the strength to be able to control my own mind. For example, possessing the strength and rationality to tell myself when to stop.
The strength to be able to rest completely on a rest day, and not just pop out for an ‘easy jog’. Because in the world of running, we always want to do more.
So, whilst to the non-runner mental strength may look like going for a 30-minute easy run when you are meant to be resting. To a runner, and me personally, a mentally strong runner looks like someone who is able to embrace their rest days, use their time to recover, and not cave in to the desire to go for an ‘easy run’ despite wishing to do so.
It is in fact easier for a lot of us to just go for a slightly longer run, or run a little bit faster, or squeeze in that extra 30- minutes, than it is to do nothing.
Irrationality is a sign of weakness.
In the past I have been a prisoner to irrationality, and it is this irrationality that has unduly led me into trouble, because ultimately, irrationality is a sign of mental weakness. For me, I am mentally strongest when I can have a rational outlook on my running and see when things are getting too much, or I need to take a step back before they become too much.
However, this doesn’t come easily and has taken plenty of time and unwanted experiences for me to realise. It has only been as a result of overdoing, that I have been able to see that occasionally, ‘underdoing’ it, is actually the perfect amount.
Another sign of mental strength in my eyes, is being able to know when to fuel myself and how to fuel myself sufficiently.
If my brain tells me I don’t need to eat any more food because it would be ‘too much’, I have the strength to override this, and I eat a lot more! Whilst again, the non-running trained mind may think an impressive amount of strength is shown by being able to resist the drive of hunger, the runner knows the immense weakness displayed by this.
The strength of mind to fuel yourself
Strength of mind is being able to tell yourself to eat when you need to because you know it will provide you with the fuel you need to power a good session. Possessing the rationality to know the benefit of fueling myself sufficiently is a huge strength I am proud to have.
As runners, it is so important for us to be able to distinguish between what is and isn’t conductive for our strength.
As I previously said, someone who isn’t a runner may believe resisting hunger to be a sign of good strength, but when we are working our bodies day in and out, a sufficient amount of fuel is vital, therefore resisting hunger, or simply not eating enough, is only going to lead to problems further down the line.
Currently there isn’t enough support or information helping athletes understand the difference between fuelling sufficiently for a non-active human and sufficient fueling for a very active runner. Therefore, until this happens we all need to have the mental strength to look out for ourselves and support one another.
Food not only leads to a strong runner, but to a strong minded individual. As nobody, and I for one will admit to being like this, can think rationality when they are hungry!
True strength is listening to yourself.
As the months go by, and I gain more experience about my own body and the sport I am in, I feel as though my mental strength increases.
It increases because I am able to have a rational perspective about my running and because I have control over my thought process, rather than allowing it to control me.
Even though lots of people may not know about a runner’s active lifestyle, if having a rest day is perceived as ‘lazy’ and ‘lacking mental strength’ then I’m ok with that, because I know true strength comes from being able to allow myself to recover.