Leadership – Marathon Running & Mental Toughness

40th London Marathon

Mental toughness is a concept that is often used in conversation and the board room but never put into practice. The first thing to note it’s not about being tough, rather it’s about developing resilience and confidence.

On Sunday 4 October, I joined tens of thousands of people across the country who laced up their trainers and set out to run the 40th London Marathon.

This wasn’t any marathon

Due to social distancing, this years marathon event couldn’t be held in London. Instead people plotted their own routes anywhere in the country and recorded and tracked their times using the London Marathon app. I was running with my friend Sarah who was running for #TeamScope to raise money for her disabled nephew Stanley and she’d plotted us a route around our home town, Doncaster.

I wasn’t any runner

Firstly I hadn’t entered. I was running to support Sarah so no medal or official time for me. Secondly, I hadn’t trained. Having only decided to run it 2 weeks before physical training was out of the question. Instead I chose to focus and train by increasing my mental toughness. Given my works purpose is to build better leaders I was curious as to what mind strengthening exercises I could experiment with to see first hand the benefits building mental toughness can have. And fundamentally how these learnings translate into leadership.

Mental Toughness & Leadership what’s the connection?

Mental toughness is a concept that is often used in conversation and the board room but never put into practice. The first thing to note it’s not about being tough, rather it’s about developing resilience and confidence. Secondly the opposite of mental toughness is not weakness, its sensitivity. In the world of work we need a blend of these two. Back to mental toughness, Professor Peter Clough has conducted so much research on the subject. Studies have found that people who display characteristics of mental toughness are generally successful in achieving results and high ranking positions within organisations.

Research also shows mentally tough students excel better and develop a portfolio of skills that will allow them to maximise their educational potential and allow them to compete in the job market. In essence mentally tough people tend to be more determined and as a result reach higher senior leadership levels and more success.

So I figured if I could increase my mental toughness I would have more chance of achieving my goal to run 26.2miles in a respectable time. Preferably sub 4 hours. This lead me to researching mental toughness for 2 weeks and putting into practice what I learned. Here are the things I found that worked the best for me:

Our Leadership Essentials For Building Better Mental Toughness

1. Get familiar with Professor Peter Clough’s 4 C’s model of Mental Toughness then assess yourself against these 4 domains and work on the ones most relevant to you.

  • Control – is your self-esteem, how much you believe you can do it. How much you can manage your emotions?
  • Commitment – is your focus and reliability. It’s about goal setting and doing what you say you will do. Keeping promises
  • Confidence – is your self-belief. belief in your abilities and your ability to increase your skills. Being able to switch off when you hear the naysayers
  • Challenge – is your drive and adaptability. How much you will push yourself and are driven to succeed. Importantly it’s about your ability to learn and adapt from set backs.

2. Learn to control your mind. This is absolutely about mindfulness and controlling your emotions.

  • Check out the calm app.
  • Cut down on the booze (massively) if you’re having more than 1 alcoholic drink you are not in total control of your mind and it will impact how sharply you can manage your emotions and drive the next day.

3. Visualise success. Read up on Holmes and Collins (2001) PETTLEP model to trick the neurons in your mind that you are doing the activity, so when it comes to the big event you can trick your mind and anxiety into thinking you have already done it before.

4. Sleep. Rest is key to being mentally tough. Your brain needs 8 hours to operate at its best. If you are sleeping less that this it might be time to start prioritising your rest. Because sleep is like cash to your brain. You can’t spend effort if there’s nothing in the bank.

5. Get clear on your purpose. Know why this achievement matters so much to you. Remind yourself of this daily.

6. Learn from people who are mentally tough. Copy what they do. Listen to their podcasts, talk to them, get coached by them. My favourite motivational series was Lebron James’s Train Your Mind Series on the Calm App.

So How Did I Do?

We ran it in 4.07. But like mentally tough people know, here’s what I learned: “It wasn’t the achievement it’s what I became, what I learned and how good I felt in building my mental toughness that made this an experience I’ll never forget.”

Intrigued to hear more about my experience and what I did to build my mental toughness in a relatable way to leadership and day to day life?  

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