We have all been in a situation at some time in our lives on the sporting field where we have come up against someone, or something which we thought was impossible to beat or achieve. Two things normally happen, you win or you lose. Usually there is a point which sways the result one way or the other. This defining moment is what separates the winners from the losers, the finishers from the non finishers, and the smiles from the frowns. I believe it comes down to two things, mental toughness and self belief.

What are the two things which Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya who has run the fastest ever recorded marathon time of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds, and someone who sets a goal of 6 hours for their first ever marathon and achieves it have in common? It’s not the amount of training hours, genes, diets, or their physiques. I can definitely be sure, without ever meeting Mr Mutai, that he, as well as the 1000s of people each year who set out to achieve their first marathon or a personal best time, what they have in common is- Mental Strength and Self Belief.

No one enters a marathon thinking they will totally fail, or they wouldn’t enter the race. How many times have you heard people stating their desire to run a marathon and how they are going to get into running, but only for excuse after excuse to arise every time the sign up date arrives, or people who say “I could never do that,” when asked about running a marathon. To exercise for hours on end towards a finishing point takes self belief of the highest degree, if you don’t believe you can complete it, who will? Self belief comes very natural to some, but for others it needs time to develop and evolve through incremental gains of success and completion of performances. It might be starting with completing a 5k race, then a couple of 10k races, then taking on a half marathon, before completing a full marathon is achieved. It’s these incremental achievements which fuel our self belief, and help us believe in ourselves that we can achieve anything. Just like the little train engine carrying a huge load up a mountain puffing “I think I can, I think I can” this self belief will help get you across the finishing line and then you will be able to say, like the little train engine “I knew I could, I knew I could!”

Most elite athletes ooze self believe. To the outside world their self belief may even come across as being cocky and arrogant, they will tell you they are the best, and no one is better because they truly believe it, and if they believe it then they feel anything is possible. Not everyone can turn this amount of self belief on simply by flicking a switch, but as long as you think you can do it, and believe in yourself when a challenge arrives, you will be ready to take on the battle which lies ahead.

All runners will tell you at some time in their racing careers that they have “hit the wall” or felt the effects of “bonking” towards the end of a race or training run. What is it that keeps these runners from stopping/slowing down? It’s their mental toughness which keeps them in a positive frame of mind, and continually controls each stride throughout these breakable times. Part of the Wikipedia definition of mental toughness describes it as “a collection of attributes which allows a person to persevere through difficult circumstances and emerge without losing confidence.” If you can convince yourself that you can make it to the top of the hill or to the finish line mentally, then the rest of your body, (majority of the time) will follow.

Mental toughness is something anyone can achieve with a little work, activities like visualisation (seeing yourself running up the hill and crossing the finishing line), or positive self talk (complementing yourself on a great performance, or stage of run) are just a couple of ways in which you can help strengthen your mental toughness.

Being determined to achieve your goal, no matter how hard times may get, pushing yourself to where you thought you could never go physically and psychologically, is the key to finding out just how mentally tough you are. Once you understand just how tough mentally you are, it’s like a secret weapon, calling on its power whenever your legs start to burn and your pace drops. Stay relaxed, totally focused, and know that your ok because you have worked harder, run faster, and felt worse, your mind is unbreakable, and nothing will stop you from achieving your goal, this is mental toughness at work.

Anyone who believes in themselves, and is prepared to “roll up their sleeves” when met with a challenge in my opinion has the keys for success. Obviously there are countless amounts of external factors to consider, as well as your own preparations and training. If you look at any elite athlete, any world champion, and anyone who has completed a mammoth task, which appeared unattainable to start with, I guarantee that the two things which all these people have in common are self belief, and mental toughness. That is why combining these two attributes is my formula for success.