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Mental grit and marathon running

Written by: Fouzhan Shadidi

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Time to read 4 min

Keywords: mental grit, marathon, running, mental toughness

Can you outrun your body? Is mental grit going to help push your boundaries as you are running your marathon?


Let’s see if mental grit and not just bodily but also psychological training can help you win a long-distance marathon run. 

mental grit, marathon, running, mental toughness

1. Measuring Mental Grit in Marathon Running

In the realm of marathon running, mental grit  is often quantified using various metrics, such as the Grit Scale, which assesses perseverance and passion for long-term goals.


Other tools include the Mental Toughness Questionnaire, which gauges an individual's resilience and ability to cope with pressure.

These metrics, while providing valuable insights into a runner's mental fortitude, are not without their limitations.


For instance, they may not fully capture the complexity of mental grit, which encompasses a wide range of psychological attributes, including focus, determination and self-confidence.


Furthermore, these measurements may not align with the specific needs or interests of marathon runners, who often require a unique blend  of mental toughness and physical endurance.


As such, while these metrics can be useful, they should be used judiciously and in conjunction with other training strategies. Do these measurements truly reflect the mental grit required for marathon running, or should we be looking at other factors? 

mental grit, marathon, running, mental toughness

2. Sleep and Mood: The Unseen Factors Influencing Mental Grit


In the quest for enhancing mental grit, the importance of sleep and mood cannot be overstated.


Sleep, often overlooked, plays a pivotal role in fostering mental health .


A study found a two-way relationship between sleep and mental toughness, suggesting that not only does good sleep contribute to mental toughness, but mental toughness can also improve sleep quality, duration, and reduce disturbances .


This indicates that a well-regulated sleep schedule could be a key factor in achieving high performance in sports.


Similarly, an athlete's mood and happiness level can significantly influence t heir mental grit .


Positive emotions can enhance an individual's resilience and ability to handle pressure, thereby boosting their mental toughness.


However, it's crucial to remember that while these factors can influence mental grit, they are part of a larger, more complex picture. 

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3. Training the Mind for Marathon Running

In marathon running, training the body is only half the battle.


The other half is training the mind to withstand the mental challenges that come with this endurance sport.


One way to enhance mental toughness is through visualisation.


This technique involves picturing yourself successfully completing the marathon, which can help build confidence and reduce anxiety.


Another method is mindfulness , which involves staying present and focused during the run.


This can help manage pain and fatigue, as well as prevent negative thoughts from derailing your performance.


Mental toughness is not something you either have or don't have. It's a skill that can be developed and improved over time. 

mental grit, marathon, running, mental toughness

4. Can Mental Grit Alone Help You Win A Marathon?


Scientific research offers a nuanced perspective.


Studies like this 2023 paper  published in "Research Gate" suggest a correlation between mental toughness and athletic performance. Athletes with higher grit scores exhibited better training adherence and competition results.


However, other factors play a crucial role. A 2022 study by "Frontiers in Psychology"  highlighted the importance of physiological limitations on the mental grit of college freshmen.


Even the most determined runner can't outrun exhaustion or injuries.


Therefore, while mental grit is a valuable asset, it's best viewed as a complementary force alongside:


  • Physical training: Building a strong aerobic base and marathon-specific training plans are essential for physical endurance.

  • Strategic pacing: Understanding your body's capabilities and pacing yourself effectively are crucial for avoiding burnout or injury.

  • Nutritional planning: Proper fuel intake during training and the race itself ensures optimal energy levels.

  • Recovery strategies: Adequate rest and recovery techniques are vital for preventing fatigue and promoting muscle repair.


Mental grit is a potent tool for pushing through physical and mental discomfort during a marathon. However, achieving marathon success requires a holistic approach that integrates mental fortitude with well-structured training, nutrition, and recovery plans.

5. Balancing Mental Grit and Holistic Approaches in Marathon Training


Mental grit undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in marathon running, providing the resilience, focus, and determination needed to cross the finish line.


However, it's essential to remember that mental toughness is not the sole determinant of marathon success.


Overdependence on mental grit can lead to an imbalanced training approach, potentially neglecting other crucial aspects such as physical conditioning, nutrition, and rest.


While cultivating mental toughness, it's equally important to consider individual circumstances, needs, and holistic assessments.


This balanced approach ensures that marathon training is comprehensive, addressing all facets of performance rather than focusing solely on mental fortitude.


Also, the measures used to evaluate mental grit, while useful, may not provide a definitive or holistic evaluation of a runner's mental toughness.


It's essential to complement these measures with other approaches that consider the unique needs and circumstances of each runner.


So, how can you strike a balance between mental grit and other aspects of marathon training? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let's continue to grow together in our marathon journeys.

mental grit, marathon, running, mental toughness

Further Readings

Thinking Of Running A Marathon? How to Improve In Endurance Running: Nutrition, Vitamin D, and Personalised Training


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