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Mental Toughness is a Marathon Not a Sprint: How to Build Mental Resilience

Have you ever witnessed someone doing a seemingly impossible task - like running an ultra-marathon - and thought "how do they do that?" It's simple: mental resilience. But being mentally tough isn't just for those huge insurmountable goals. Building mental resilience is for building healthy habits, maintaining fitness goals, and pushing through when things (like life) get tough.

For most of us, building mental resiliency and toughness is a work-in-progress; it's something that takes years to build and doesn't happen overnight.

Woman running across bridge over water with downtown Calgary in the background
Photo by @joelle_t

What is Mental Resilience

Mental resilience isn't just your ability to bounce back from tough situations. It's also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances - all while maintaining stable mental wellbeing.

These challenging circumstances don't have to be huge, life-changing events. We all face challenges in our everyday lives. Things like getting up at the first alarm, pushing through a tough workout, or staying on track with healthy eating are all examples of events that build our mental toughness.

Joelle Talks Having Grit to Run a Marathon

That example of someone doing a seemingly impossible task in the beginning? Yeah, we know her. Stax's very own Joelle (@joelle_t) is a living embodiment of grit.

In August 2021, Joelle was one of the 500 racers to run the Black Spur Ultra - a 108 kilometer run through the mountains. But she didn't just wake up that morning and decide to go for a run.

No, her journey to accomplishing this ultra-goal was years in the making - a whole decade actually!

Pushing Past The Wall

Before Joelle became the fitness coach and ultra-marathon running champ we know now, she started at the beginning. After a hiatus from sports after high school, Jo got back into running while in university. Like anyone who is just starting out with anything, she didn't just step out as an expert. In fact, she says she was "atrocious" at running and it was "really, really hard".

But she stuck to it. In the beginning, she started out with 5-kilometer runs and just kept going. Then at around 19 years old, she ran her first half marathon (that's around 21 kilometers). That runner's high got her hooked!

Summarized into two neat paragraphs, you might think that building up from a 5 km run to over 100 km just happens like that. But it doesn't. As Jo explains, her progress didn't happen immediately. Her first half marathon was when she was 19 and her first ultra-marathon was at 30 - that's over 10 years!

In that decade of time, Jo didn't just train her body to run further and further. She trained her mind.

Woman in blue jacket running on a trail in the woods
Photo by @joelle_t

Building a Grit Mindset

There's no shortcut to building your own grit mindset. To be like Jo and accomplish your goals, it all comes down to putting your head down and do the work needed. "Your body will do what your mind is telling it to do," says Joelle.

On tough days, your mind might put up a mental block. Jo explains that when this happens - as it will - you have to recognize the hurt and push through. Now pushing through doesn't mean ignoring injuries. That's a different pain.

But when you're tired or hungry or have blisters, keep going forward. In fact, a mantra that helped her through the toughest of periods was this simply: forward is a pace.

How to Build Mental Resilience

Joelle isn't the only person to have discovered the power of having grit. Neuroscientists, psychologists, athletes, and more have been studying mental toughness - and learning how to build it. Here are 5 ways to build your own mental resilience.

1. Well-laid plans

Colorful post-it notes on a board

Big goals can seem really, really scary until you remember that all these goals came out from very well-laid-out plans.

Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the hugeness of your goal - break your big goal into smaller, more attainable pieces. Write the steps down so you can see how easy to manage each bite-size piece is.

For Jo, her goal of running a 108 km race had to fit into her busy life, which includes waking up at 3 A.M. every day for work. So her plan needed to be personalized yet precise. The ultra-marathon was broken into 16 weeks and was displayed on a huge calendar on her wall where she could check off mini-accomplishments.

2. Accountability

"When you look yourself in the mirror, that's the one person you can't lie to." - David Goggins, toughest man alive

Accountability starts with you. Try this: on your bathroom or vanity mirror, put post-it notes with your goals so you can see them every day.

Need some accountability support? Get your friends involved with your goals. Joelle loves to drag all her spin friends onto the trails for a run. Having friends act as accountability partners helps keep you on the right path.

3. Visualization

Visualization is a powerful tool to help you reach your goals and live out your dreams. Not only does it help your mind prepare and teach itself how to respond to a situation before it happens (like when you accomplish your big goal), but it also conditions your brain to see, hear, and feel the success in your mind.

Visualize the finish, the ball in the net, crossing the finish line. Visualize how good you will feel when you finish what you started.

4. Delayed Gratification

A woman celebrating at the end of a maraton
Incredible photo capturing a woman's happiness after completing the Boston Marathon. Photo by Ben Gavin.

As people, it's an inborn principle that humans are wired to seek instant gratification. But by delaying gratification - that is, resisting the temptation of an immediate reward and waiting for a better award - we can build mental toughness and help with impulse control.

5. Mantras

Lastly, when times are tough and you're in the midst of that marathon session that feels like it will never end, utilize success mantras. Success mantras are affirmations that you make to yourself that can help change your thinking. Here are some success mantras to try:

  • Forward is a pace.

  • I am destined for big success in life.

  • My business/website/career is growing, expanding, and thriving.

  • I wake up happy and excited every single day.

  • I am a powerful creator. I create the life I want and enjoy it.


Now in the words of Britney Spears, "You better work, bitch!"

What is the huge goal that you're working towards? Share it below with us!

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