Train Your Brain

Mental Strength
Chris McCormack – aka Macca, is a strong advocate for the mental side of endurance events (in his case the Ironman, and more specifically Kona). He says that, in general, there are no big secrets to training and that most pro athletes turn up to the big races in similar shape. I love the way that Craig Alexander dismisses any excuses with “everybody knows the date of Kona”. So with that in mind (and Macca is not the only advocate for mental strength) it would appear that other factors are at work. But is mental strength the main one?

There are numerous factors – patience, strategy, nutrition, pacing, etc. And all of these contribute to the overall result, but for sure mental strength is a large portion. However, there are those who would disagree with Macca – one of them being Marino Vanhoenacker the fastest person over an official Ironman. He has never won Kona but has run himself into such a state that he has put himself in hospital – so is he mentally weak? No, and that is when the other factors come into play.

Brain Power

Now I am conscious of the fact that this doesn’t seem to leading anywhere, but I do have a purpose. The vast majority of us would not do to ourselves what Marino has done to himself, so although there are obvious exceptions to the rules, Macca on the whole is right. So what can we do?

I have touched upon this in previous articles but I cannot stress how important it is to train your mental strength for the suffering involved in many sports. For instance, if you say that you are going to swim 20 lengths (and this is scientifically proven) you will feel more tired at the end than if you thought you were going to swim 40 lengths but someone stopped you at 20 lengths – even if you are swimming at the same speed. This is a great example of how much your grey matter can affect your performance.


It is all too easy to pussy out on those harder sessions, stopping just before the end or simply doing whatever activity at a lower pace. It might be doing 6 instead of 8 reps in your last set in the gym or using the last km of a 10k run as a ‘warm down’. It is far too easy to ‘let yourself off the hook’ or make excuses. The issue is that this can quite easily become a mental habit and is something that you want to get on top of as soon as you see it trying to rear it’s ugly head. Clearly you can’t have every single session ending in you thrashing your body (and mind) till you can give no more. However, having one session like this maybe once a week is a great way to make sure that not only is your body in the right sort of shape, but your mind is as well. I apologise if this sounds a little yoda – esque but do not underestimate the necessity of training your mental strength. It may well just be a case of getting used to a certain level of pain which allows you to handle it more easily. Whatever the case, if you shy away from those harder sessions you will have a weaker body and mind. This will then result in you getting pipped to the post by someone who did go out and do those hard sessions. You need to make sure that you are prepared to endure whatever you have to endure, and believe me if you have done it every week in training it makes race day or whatever match you are in soo much easier. So don’t let yourself ease off in training when you could go harder or further. It will pay dividends.

Train Your Brain

Maybe even try tricking yourself like Scott Jurek did in the Badwater ultra marathon through death valley. Now that is a skill!

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