Building mental endurance through exercise

I’ve often heard athletes say that anyone can do an Ironman or a marathon as long as they put their mind to it. While there is definitely some truth to that, I also think it requires a whole lot of discipline and of course, training. But you know what’s actually harder than the running itself? Building up your mental stamina. Sure, your legs burn, your lungs hurt, your tendons are screaming for relief but the biggest roadblock when it comes to reaching your goals is often your mind.

Photo courtesy of the Canada Running Series 

I am learning this from experience. I’m currently training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon taking place on October 20th. (If you want to support my charity of choice, the Huntington Society of Canada, feel free to check out my sponsorship page.)

The training has been slow and at times kind of brutal. When you hit kilometre 14, running starts to get, well horribly boring and a little brain numbing. I just don’t feel like doing it anymore. Plus, it kind of hurts. That’s what’s so interesting about endurance exercise. It can make your mental state so much healthier (hello endorphins!) but it also requires a lot of mental stamina to withstand the pain and occasional boredom that comes with it. But there’s something that makes everyone keep going – be it a runners’ high, fitness goals, weight loss goals or simply that sense of accomplishment and all of them are different reasons why my feet keep moving.

Here’s what I think about while I run:

  • “Losers complain. Winners train.” (I saw this phrase on a t-shirt during a long run and it really helped.)
  • “I have fresh legs.” (I read about a runner who told herself that and it kept her going.)
  • “Embrace pain.” (My super athlete boyfriend is encouraging me to do this. Actually.)
  • Create mini goals. I will tell myself that if I can run until that next fire hydrant then I can stop for a few seconds. Or I think of food rewards. Picturing the awesome breakfast I’m going to have when I finish helps!
  • Sharing my accomplishments. I know that my fitness-enthused friends would be proud of me so I make sure to track my runs on a fitness app so I can tell them all the stats. Many people find sharing their workouts with an online community helps them to achieve their goals.


Running is obviously not just mental, it requires a lot of muscular strength and flexibility, but I think exercise has a lot to do with deciding to push past those mental and physical barriers. And the more you practice, the better you get at it, right?

What do you do to keep going? Share with us on Facebook and Twitter!