How To Get Your Head In The Game


By Tahnee Lacey
When I set out to write about mental toughness my intended audience was runners; however, mental toughness can apply to all of us.

We can apply the tricks of mental toughness to runners, basketball players, power lifters and any other sport you can think of. Sadly, we spend the majority of our training getting physically prepared and so little time getting mentally prepared, even though it's just as important.

Vince Lombardi defined mental toughness as "a perfectly disciplined state of mind that refuses to give in." 

So, how can you get to that state of mind? Glad you asked!

Think Positive Thoughts

As soon as you start telling yourself you can't do something the sooner your body will agree.

Think about it: if you were working out with a trainer who told you that you weren't capable and should give up what would you do? I hope the answer is find another trainer. So why are we doing this to ourselves?

Negative thoughts are just as capable of destroying a perfectly on point game as positive ones are able to assist you to power through. Replace those negative thoughts with positive ones like "you can do this," "you are a magical unicorn," and one I stole from one of my trainers, "that's fine as wine." 

Be confident that you are capable of crushing the items you put on your goal list. It takes training to achieve our goals, but when I started working out three years ago, I couldn’t run more than .25 miles and just wanted to run around the block without giving up. I am now hoping to run an ultra-marathon. Be your own champion and be the first person to believe in yourself. 


Visualize everything before you do it. Have you ever watched a rock climber before they got on the wall? They don't just hop on the rock face and throw caution to the wind; they stare at the wall face and analyze and visualize their route.

For strength and cardio training, visualize how your body will look as you complete each rep or segment of a race. When I started distance running, I would visualize how I would look and feel crossing the finish line including onlookers cheering.

During my 16, 18 and 20 mile runs of marathon training I would go so far as to visualize a friend or family member at landmarks which would help push me towards that landmark. As I approached them I would say hi and list all the things I liked about that person. Cheesy, I know, but it definitely got me through some of those more difficult miles. Okay, well that and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.

The more you visualize how your body will look and feel at each stage of your specific event, the more you will know how to react when things don't go necessarily as planned.

Be flexible

So now you've spent some time following step number two (visualizing). You know how your body and your muscles are going to look. You know what to expect during each portion of your race. So what happens when something doesn't go exactly as planned?

A good athlete knows that as much as you need to be prepared, you also need to be flexible for anything that can happen. These two things go hand in hand. The better prepared you are, the better equipped you are to deal with changes. Don't succumb to them. Rely on those positive thoughts to say hey, this just happened but I am still in charge and can handle this.

Chunk your goals

In terms of running, when you tell someone that you are going to run 26.2 miles do you immediately want to curl up into a Poke ball and hide?

Separate your workout into more mentally manageable and less intimidating segments. A marathon is only 8 ½ 5Ks (give or take a few meters). If you are running a marathon, you likely already know that you can crush a 5K. Every 3 miles count down. If you are running a shorter distance, this still helps. Maybe a 5K seems like a crazy distance to you. Think of it as three 1-mile segments and power through each of those miles. That extra .1 is just icing on the "I just destroyed that 5K race" cake.

Stay Present

Learn from your performance yesterday and then like Elsa in Disney's Frozen, "Let it go."

Your performance yesterday and your performance tomorrow do not matter for your mental state today. So Tuesday you had to walk more than you would like during your medium run and now today you have a long run. Let it go. And to follow up with some more Idina Menzel, this time from Rent, there's "no day but today." Learn from the past, apply it to the present and then breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth because that is all that really matters.

To sum up, start practicing your mental tips to prime your brain to be just as strong as your body. You are a gorgeous unicorn and everything else is just a delicious donut that you get to devour on your way to success. Want to learn more about mental toughness and sports psychology?

Check out the American Psychological Association for more.

Tahnee Lacey is a Chicago-based avid runner, lover of group fitness (trainer and participant), owner of cats and appreciator of donuts. You can follow her on Instagram at