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What is Mental Strength and How do I use it in Ultra Running?

I have been thinking for some time now; what makes someone able to finish those 100 mile, or mountainous, or long ultra stage races? Although I don't have all the answers, I certainly think this is one of them. Resilience.

In the unforgiving terrain of ultra running, where every step tests the limits of physical endurance and mental fortitude, the power of mental resilience is undeniable. It's the unwavering resolve that carries runners through the darkest of moments, the ability to embrace discomfort as a catalyst for growth, and the steadfast belief in one's capacity to overcome adversity. But what exactly is mental resilience, and how can ultra runners cultivate it to thrive in their sport?

Trails and Fitness Ultra Runner at top of Hill

Understanding Mental Resilience

Mental resilience is the capacity to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to challenges, and maintain focus and determination in the face of adversity. It's about cultivating a mindset that embraces discomfort as an opportunity for growth, re-frames obstacles as stepping stones to success, and fosters unwavering self-belief in one's ability to persevere. Turning the negative into a positive, what can you learn, how can you change it up, why is this happening. These are all questions you can ask yourself; drop the ego and let the brain build your best resilient self. Shit happens and it's never ideal, but how you deal with it, and what your reaction and actions are will determine the rest of your Journey.

Building Resilience in Everyday Life

Building mental resilience begins long before race day—it's a daily practice that extends beyond the trails and into every aspect of life. Simple yet powerful techniques such as mindfulness meditation, journaling, and positive self-talk can help cultivate resilience by fostering a sense of inner calm, clarity, and self-awareness.

Mindfulness meditation, practiced regularly, trains the mind to stay present and focused, allowing runners to navigate challenges with greater clarity and composure. Journaling provides an outlet for processing emotions, reflecting on experiences, and identifying patterns of thought and behavior that may hinder resilience. Positive self-talk involves replacing negative self-limiting beliefs with empowering affirmations, reinforcing a sense of confidence and self-efficacy.

I also believe that manifesting what you want, and your goals is a way to build resilience in your everyday. Whether you have a million and one tasks to do, break it down in to chunck, or set yourself time frames. For example, for one hour I will do "X" work, then take a 10 min break, after I'll spend 30 minutes on Yoga. You can also use it in your workouts and racing.

Training Resilience in Workouts

Incorporating resilience-building techniques into training sessions can help ultra runners develop the mental fortitude needed to tackle the demands of long-distance running. Interval training, for example, simulates the ebbs and flows of race day, challenging runners to push through discomfort and maintain focus during high-intensity efforts.

I often find on a harder workout, especially intervals where I need to hold a hard and fast effort for (what seems and eternity) a longer time, that thinking "OK, lets see what does happen here, if I keep going what's on the other side (of the pain barrier/other voice in your head saying slow down)." It has also taught me to use my intuition in training more effectively. I now know what a 5 out of 10 should feel like vs 8 out of 10, so come to race day - I know what it should feel like and when I need to push.

Visualization is another powerful tool for building resilience in workouts. By mentally rehearsing race scenarios and visualizing themselves overcoming obstacles with ease and confidence, runners can strengthen their belief in their ability to persevere and succeed.

Eiger Ultra Trail UTMB

Applying Resilience on Race Day

On race day, mental resilience becomes the cornerstone of success. As runners confront the physical and psychological challenges of the course, it's essential to maintain a resilient mindset that embraces discomfort, stays focused on the present moment, and draws strength from within.

Staying present through mindfulness techniques such as breath awareness can help runners anchor themselves in the present moment, preventing overwhelm and anxiety. Positive self-talk and visualization can bolster confidence and motivation, reminding runners of their capacity to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.

Courtney Dauwalter, renowned for her extraordinary mental toughness, attributes much of her resilience to her mindset of embracing discomfort and uncertainty. She views challenges not as obstacles to be overcome but as opportunities for growth and self-discovery—a perspective echoed by many elite ultra runners.

Why Resilience Matters for Ultra Runners

In the unpredictable world of ultra running, where the only certainty is uncertainty, mental resilience is the ultimate game-changer. It's what separates those who merely survive from those who thrive, enabling runners to weather the storms, conquer the peaks, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.

By cultivating resilience in everyday life, integrating resilience-building techniques into training sessions, and applying resilience strategies on race day, ultra runners can unlock their full potential and achieve feats once thought impossible. So, quiet the doubts and embrace the journey—because the true test of strength isn't found in the miles you run but in the resilience of your spirit.

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