By Training Block / March 02, 2023

The Importance Of Mental Training For Runners

Mental training is perhaps the most underrated and underutilized training tool for runners. We do so many of the right things: we purchase the right shoes, we hire a coach, we get started on a training plan, we fuel properly, we sleep enough, and we track our data with our Garmin/Strava/Whoop/Oura/Coros etc. We’re ready to compete! Yet, on race day, we mysteriously bonk. Everything feels ok, but mentally, we’re just not there. And that’s because despite all of the other training, mental training wasn’t a priority. Even though, it turns out, mental fortitude is one of the most important elements of a successful race.

In fact, the truth is that while elite-level runners are known for their physical skills, what sets them apart from the rest is their ability to maintain peak performance under pressure. Take a look at Molly Seidel’s bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, or Des Linden’s gritty first place finish at Boston in 2018, or even the iconic duel in the sun between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. These elites won not only due to talent, which many of their competitors also possessed, but due to mental preparedness and toughness. Because, as Steve Prefontaine himself once said, “it’s not who’s the best - it’s who can take the most pain.” 

Mental training plays a crucial role in developing the ability to perform at a high level under pressure, and it can truly be the difference between success and failure in high-stakes competitions. These are some great examples of areas athletes, coaches, and people in general can work on to improve their overall performance as a person. In this blog post, we will highlight the importance of mental training for runners of all abilities, and the benefits it provides. 

Enhanced Focus and Concentration

One of the initial benefits of mental training for runners is improved focus and concentration. In the middle of high-stress situations, like a big event you’ve been training hard for, or a race where you are shooting for a goal time, it can be challenging to maintain focus and avoid distractions. Mental training can help you develop the ability to stay present and focused during the race, even in the face of distractions, negative self-talk, or even adverse circumstances like bad racing conditions or things not going as planned. This naturally leads to improved performance, as you are better able to focus on executing your game plan and not draining energy on other things. 

This is a great podcast on mental performance training, by Dr. Zuleger, Sport Psychologist.

Improved Confidence and Managing Self-Talk

Elite runners that perform well must have confidence in their abilities to succeed at the highest levels of competition. Mental training can help all runners build and maintain a similar strong sense of self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to succeed. This confidence can help you push through difficult challenges and setbacks and maintain a positive attitude towards your performance, even in the middle of the race. 

Learn more about managing self-talk HERE.

Learn more about how to negate fear of not setting a PR, HERE.  

The importance of practicing maintaining confidence in yourself and managing self talk cannot be overstated. How many times have you, as a runner, trained hard for a goal race, at levels indicating you can hit a goal time or personal best, only to doubt everything about yourself on race day? How many times do you tell yourself in the middle of the race all the reasons why you can’t achieve your goal, despite all of the evidence to the contrary? Negative self talk and doubt can easily creep in, despite a solid block of training. In fact, it can be one of the biggest limiting factors of your success on race day. Actively training your mind to maintain confidence in yourself can give you the strength you need to perform well on race day.

Better Stress Management

The pressure of competition can be overwhelming at all levels of performance, and runners must be able to manage stress effectively to perform at their best. Mental training can help you develop highly effective coping mechanisms to manage stress, such as visualization, breathing exercises, or mindfulness techniques. These skills can help you stay calm and focused even in high-pressure situations, and maintain peak performance under stress.

Learn more about how mindfulness decreases stress and changes our brains

Improved Mental Resilience

Most athletes face numerous challenges and setbacks throughout their individual running journeys, from injuries to losses to personal struggles. Mental training can help you develop mental resilience, or the ability to bounce back from setbacks and continue to pursue your goals. This resilience can be invaluable in helping you overcome obstacles and maintain a long-term perspective on your running career.

This mental resilience often helps outside of the confines of a race, but impacts your longevity and mental health in sport. Injury is a huge setback and loss in a runner’s life. Learning how to effectively cope with this challenge can vastly improve your overall mental health and well-being, and also help you recover faster and elongate your time in sport. Other losses and personal struggles, sub-par performances, and even daily frustrations also require mental resilience that comes from purposeful mental training.

Mental Skills for Ultra-endurance workshop - learn more HERE.

Learn more about how mindfulness increases an athletes mind/body connection

Work with an Expert

There are some running coaches who are able to work with you not only on a solid running plan, but also on a comprehensive mental performance plan to incorporate into your training. That said, there are amazing mental performance coaches and sport psychologists that have more education, background and expertise to take you further towards your goals. We always recommend working with experts in their respective areas, i.e., dietitians for nutrition advice, strength coaches for strength plans, and mental performance coaches for mental training. The good news is, you can easily find some of the best sport psychologists and mental performance coaches in the country, right here on Training Block! These experts will work with you one-on-one to improve your mental toughness, increase your confidence and focus, and help you manage stress.


In conclusion, mental training is a critical component of every runner’s training regimen. It can help you improve your focus and concentration, build confidence and self-efficacy, manage stress more effectively, and develop mental resilience. By incorporating mental training into your training regimen, you can gain a competitive advantage and achieve greater success and longevity in sport. Working with a sport psychologist or mental performance expert is the best way to get there. 

Happy Training!