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What is mental strength?

1 March 2016 One Comment

Mental strength can take many forms. Our sport relies heavily on mental strength, in fact it’s the biggest single ingredient in an Ironman athlete’s success.

Punctuality – Most of us don’t realise that being punctual requires “mental strength”. Mental strength takes many different, often subtle forms. To be punctual you have to care, you have to respect the commitment you have made to the coach, to yourself. Being punctual is confirming your commitment, it’s often the result of sighting your goals as the alarm goes off. That moment after the alarm is shut down before you actually get up. This is where punctuality starts, every day starts by sighting your goal, even if it’s done subconsciously, it’s the goal that gets you up.

Organisation – Being organised is the key to great achievement. The most common characteristic of successful Ironman athletes is the fact that they fit more into a life than “normal people”. There is no incentive to become organised unless you have  strong goals. People without strong goals have no need to be organised. One of the ingredients of mental strength is efficiency, you have to be organised to be efficient.

Resilience – The road to the top is never going to be one straight line without a few dips. The mentally strong athletes have the ability to take the good with the bad. They know where they’re going, and they know what they want, no obstacle is going to stop them. Shit happens, get over it.

Emotions – We all have them, in fact it’s emotions which drive us through difficult times when there’s no logical reason for keeping going. But we have to harness this powerful force. We have to direct our emotions towards making the right moves towards our goal. We have to be aware of our emotions and not let them distract us. Calming ourselves when things are not going right is another facet of mental strength which should not be underestimated.


Single minded – When you start a journey towards something you really want in life it often ends up, not fitting with the plans others have for us. We have to be strong if we’re going to get the “prize”. Along the way there are going to be lots of people who will stand in your path. Some of them are going to be close friends, loved ones, employers and even other competitors. If our goal is strong enough, we’ll see a clear path through all these snags, there is always a way. It often doesn’t suit others, but they just have to get used to “how it is”.

Masochist  – The dictionary says “a person who enjoys something that seems painful or tiring to others”. Now isn’t that an Ironman?  If you go into this game knowing it’s going to hurt, and you get used to hurting in each long, tough session, you end up finding a feeling of satisfaction comes from it. Learning to face some pain often, allows you to find the strength which lies hidden behind that pain. Then all of a sudden you start looking forward to that “pain barrier” so that you can push through and find the reward on the other side.  This is one of the components of mental strength.

Ownership – You have to “own your goal” and defy anyone to take it off you. If you start a race already “owning” the spot you’re chasing, you’ll be a much tougher opponent than one who is “trying to get his hands on the prize”. Psychologically it’s better to be defending something you see as your own, than it is to be trying to take the prize from someone else. You’ll fight harder to hold your own property. This quality alone is one of the greatest assets an athlete can have.


One Comment »

  • jen said:

    Thanks Al… i look forward to reading your articles 🙂

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