Another, compatible way is to rate your mental toughness in key workouts and races. That is, after completing each race and key workout, review it mentally, and decide whether you ran slower than you could and should have at any point to spare yourself some suffering. Naturally, in races the idea is to run absolutely as hard as you can over the full distance, so any seconds added to your finish time unnecessarily by intolerance of suffering are unacceptable. In workouts you seldom want to run as hard as you do in races, but often you want to run hard enough to experience intense suffering, meaning hard enough that, as in races, you must guard against running slower than intended to spare yourself a bit of that suffering.

There is an expression in business that applies to training and racing: What gets measured gets managed. When you make the effort to measure an important variable, you naturally act to affect that variable in positive ways. For example, research has shown that dieters lose more weight when they simply journal what they eat. I believe the same thing happens when a runner grades her mental toughness in workouts and races. The very act of paying attention to her tolerance of suffering, coupled with caring about it, will almost automatically cause her to bear more suffering.

I used to feel that I often failed to leave it all out on the racecourse, and I hated myself for that. So I decided to programmatically increase my mental toughness by grading my effort level after each race. I’m not talking about school-type letter grades (A, A-, B+, etc.). I simply asked myself whether I had held back unnecessarily at any point to spare myself additional suffering. If I was able to conclude that I had not, I was satisfied, regardless of how fast or slow I had actually run. If I concluded that I had held back more than necessary, even in one of six intervals in a given workout, I was dissatisfied, regardless of my actual time(s), and I vowed to try harder next time. In races this grade became more important to me than my actual finish time and placing, and it had the intended effect. I’m now much more mentally tough in races than I was several years ago.


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