A few days ago, I read an article by David Nield in Science Alert in which he reported on a recent study of mental toughness and self-efficacy in ultrarunners. The study, conducted at the 2019 HURT 100 Mile and tracking 56 subjects, utilized two tools in gathering data, the Endurance Sport Self Efficacy Scale (ESSES) and the Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ). After crunching the numbers, the results led the researchers to conclude that athletes who achieve a certain threshold of mental toughness and self-efficacy are more likely to succeed in ultramarathons.
The aspect of the study I found most interesting, after digging a little deeper into the SMTQ, was the way in which the tool analyzed these three spheres of mental toughness:
- Confidence – An athlete’s belief in their own abilities to achieve goals;
- Constancy – An athlete’s determination, personal responsibility, and ability to concentrate; and
- Control – An athlete’s perception of bringing about desired outcomes with particular reference to controlling emotions.
In thinking about my own mental toughness (or lack thereof), I would rank confidence at the top of my list. Over the years, I have come to believe in the power of positivity and optimism in both running and in life. While it can, at times, be dangerous to become overconfident, believing in my own abilities, even when they may be compromised, has allowed me to get through some pretty rough spots.
Next on my list would be control. While many of the key markers in the SMTQ deal with issues of the mind, I continue to believe that the heart is equally, if not more, important. When our emotions get the best of us, when fear, dread, and despair rear their ugly heads in an ultramarathon–and they almost always do–we must be ready for it and be able to regulate and sometimes even repress our emotions.
Finally, constancy is third on my list. This is not to say that determination and personal responsibility are unimportant. Rather, I believe that in the absence of confidence and control, constancy is less likely to bring you out of a rough spot.
As the future of ultrarunning unfolds in front of us, it is my hope that more studies like this one can be conducted. While this one studied 56 runners at a midsize 100 miler in the USA, imagine the wisdom that could be gained if a study such as this was conducted at the Western States 100, UTMB, or even the Comrades Marathon. Armed with empirical data, we could then go out and seek to actively train ourselves to be more mentally tough. These days, that would be a pretty good thing!
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Deep Ellum Brewing Company in Dallas, Texas. One of their most popular year-round beers, Manic Confidence, is a delicious hazy IPA that is quite different from the typical. Tart and almost sour at first taste, Manic Confidence builds on the palate, producing a wonderfully fruity aftertaste that brings you through the entire taste spectrum in just one sip.
Call for Comments
- Where do you sit when it comes to confidence, constancy, and control?
- Were you by any chance one of the 56 people who participated in this research study? If so, can you share a little about it?