These Ladies Get REAL About Mental Toughness

By Sunni Ko

During races and hard workouts, self-doubt can overcome even the greatest of athletes. Being able to overcome the inner battle is a unique experience for all, but something we are all capable of doing.  Here are ways that strong women from all backgrounds, ages, and experiences from around the country move past their inner demons during the darkest of hours. 

“I usually talk out loud and tell myself “I can do this!” I also think of all my chores that need to be done at home and that helps me stay on the trail a little longer too!” Kourtney, Mississippi [Pictured above]


 “I look at my kick-ass teammates who are all older than me and faster than me and try to catch them so we can chat! Leslie, North Carolina

“I sing happy songs to help remember that I love this sport, I love that I can do this. I think of all the people who support me and I’m always amazed at how far I’ve come.” Anne, Illinois

“Since having my daughter, I have also added, “you labored for 27 hours, this is nothing.” Christine, Ohio

“I think about my determination to finish any race I’m in and how much I love the challenge. I tell myself that quitting is not an option.” Shirley, Iowa

“People do hard things everyday. Some people have no choice. Everyday is hard when you have ALS. I chose this.” Hai-Ping, Washington

“I was always the fat kid who was always picked last and I’m here!” Rhonda, Pennsylvania

“I remind myself of all the progress I’ve made to get where I am in that moment. Five years ago, I couldn’t run half a mile without breaking down in tears and now I’m comfortable running in all kinds of races, even if I’m one of the slowest people there! I have to respect the work I’ve put in and trust that I will continue to improve every day.” Carrie, Illinois [Pictured above]

“I lost a man who was practically a brother to me during Operation Iraqi Freedom while in the USMC. Obviously, I have a story not many people have, but I tell myself to run for him because you only get to live once.” Nicole, Minnesota.

“I think about how far I’ve come. From 215 pounds to 135. From couch to 5K to 10K to 13.1 to 26.2 and now triathlon! Elizabeth, Ohio                                                     

“I envision my Lord walking/running in front of me. Indeed, the LORD is one who will keep on walking in front of you. He’ll be with you and won’t leave you or abandon you, so never be afraid and never be dismayed.” Jacki, Texas

“It’s a Des Linden Quote… “Relax and let the run come out of you.” Jeanine, Pennsylvania

“I repeat out loud. You are strong, you are smart, you are swift.” Tracey, Florida

 “I was told at 19 that I would be in a wheelchair by 40 because of osteoporosis and a childhood bone density issue along with a terrible car accident. I can run, I can bike, I can swim. THEY said I wouldn’t be able to, and I proved them wrong! I remember that doctor telling me to “just accept it.” I didn’t accept it then and I don’t accept it now. That is my fuel.” Coral, Wyoming.

“When I hit my wall running I dig deep and tell myself If I can beat cancer 2x then I can finish this race, so get moving.” Nancy, Mississippi [Pictured above]

“I struggle with negative self-talk and when things get difficult it can be almost overwhelming. But I have found that repeating over and over again “I am a warrior” gets me through. You see, a warrior doesn’t start out a warrior. It takes years of discipline and dedication to perform well under pressure. It doesn’t take away the fear, but gives you the discipline to keep powering through it. I won’t let any race defeat me!” Erin, South Carolina

“I always remember what my coach said to me the first time I trained. “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” Kelly, Missouri.

“I told myself during the dark parts of [IronMan] Augusta that I didn’t come this far to only come this far!” Michelle, Kansas

“I am a single mom and I remind myself that if I can bring a human being into this world and raise him on my own, there isn’t anything I can’t do.” Joanne, New York

And if all else fails remember:
“Still lapping everyone on the couch!” Amy, Arizona

Thanks to all the courageous women who contributed to this piece and thanks to all of YOU who continue to show what strength truly is. 

Have additional pieces of advice? Please comment below! Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter and get training tips, event invites, perks and more delivered to your inbox every Monday morning. Sign up here.  

Sunnie Ko is a fitness and wellness blogger based in Washington, D.C. You can find more of Sunnie's work on her blog, Just Tri it Once, at You can follow Sunni on Instagram at @justtriitonce.