I wonder if everyone has the same definition for “Mental Strength.” To me it means the ability to manage our thoughts, control our emotions, finding positivity in every circumstance. Building mental strength consists in developing skills that can prepare you for life obstacles. It’s about focusing your energy in healthy habits and self-improvement.
Two years ago I was encouraged to start running. At first I thought it was boring, exhausting, and it didn’t produce any positive emotions. One day I went to watch some friends run a marathon. I was cheering the runners and giving them support in km 15. Then I stood in the finish line. Watching how the runners (all type of ages and physical conditions) where finishing the race made me feel proud. I could sense their energy and satisfaction. It made me realize that anything is possible if you fight for it, no matter in what state you are in. Everyone has their own story, their own pace, rhythm, and motivation. The point is that sooner or later, they all finished and achieved their goals!
All those runners had an impact on me. That same night I went out for a run and to my surprise I couldn’t stop and ended up running 11 km! CRAZY, right?
I share this just to show how powerful the mind is. I proved to myself the theory of Mind over Matter. When your inner self is fulfilled and feels 100% motivated, you put all your strengths and energy on it and go for it! I never knew I could do it, but I did! Some internal force kept me going. Eventually I wasn’t prepared to run so much, but it gave me enough courage to begin my training. I learned some techniques and soon ran a few 10k races.
In October 2015 I joined a half Marathon for February 2016. I didn’t begin to train until I was 1 month from it! OH GOD! I thought I was a complete mess, obviously I wasn’t going to make it! My motivation completely drained because I had no one to train with or anyone empowering me. I didn’t see myself capable of training for it only in a month! I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to do this. – “Why did I even subscribe in the first place?” I thought. Before giving up I made a list of the reasons that drove me into this sport, what benefits I could get from it, and why I was able to do it. I went back to the feelings that arose inside me when I was watching that Marathon. The energy inside pushed me forward and I began to run on my own. I became my own trainer. I know my conditions so I adapted the running plans for myself. I focused on my breathing, which would allow me to go to the same pace. I combined my trainings with workouts to get more resistance, and even followed a healthy eating plan.
I stopped training a few days before the race and only achieved a 15 km run. I did the best I could in my physical training, now it was time for my mind. My goal was to finish the race in 2 hours. I meditated and used Visualization technique to believe in what could happen, which was, seeing myself finish those 21 km. I visualized myself at the beginning of the race, surrounded by hundreds of excited runners. I saw myself running with the same rhythm all the way through, enjoying the beautiful views. I imagined my legs working the best they could, and finally saw the satisfaction on my face while reaching the finish line. I imagined every movement from beginning to end in depth. Visualizing it made me believe I could do it! This technique helps you see your performance in a perfect form. It works because your imagination sends some patterns to your brains, which will then be put into action by your body.
The day of the race I was really nervous. I was afraid in getting carried away by the rest and lose my energy before time. The most important thing for me in this race was not only finishing, but to gain the ability to control my body and mind. During the race I kept speaking to myself, reminding myself to control my breathing, distribute my energy correctly. I used the Internal Dialogue (click HERE if you want to read more about it). That voice kept telling me how powerful I was and that I was doing just fine. – “Push a little bit harder!” – “You can do it!” – “You are almost there!”
I must say I struggled in km 8 and again at km 17. I thought I was losing focus and got worried if I was going to get fatigued before time, or my legs would no longer respond. But that voice accompanied me all the time. Those negative thoughts about being a failure and not being able to achieve my goal, turned into something positive. I wasn’t a failure because I was there, present in that precise moment! Failure would have been if I hadn’t even tried. Of course I could do it! – “I am capable of this and more!” I said.
Crossing the finish line was the best feeling ever! I had a huge smile on my face. So much adrenaline and massive energy around me felt amazing. It felt really good that my mind and body combined together and allowed me to run all those kilometers. It took me 2 hours and 5 minutes, but I already felt like a winner. – “I did it!” That’s all I thought and what mattered.
With this short running experience I’ve had, it just proves that the mind plays a huge role. Research demonstrates that the brain can be trained to allow the body to physically handle more. This said, I encourage you to dedicate time on training your mind. Focus on your mental strength. Physical activity trains you in becoming stronger. It produces positivity. It’s challenging, but it allows you to set goals and accomplish them. You get more discipline, you learn about your strengths and weaknesses…but just remember that body and mind work together.