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The Marathon Mindset #2: Endure

Elite marathoners explain how they train not only their bodies, but their minds, to go the distance and recover from setbacks.


Endurance is most commonly talked about as a physical phenomenon; the ability to resist the debilitating physical affects of fatigue for a prolonged amount of time. The burn in the legs. The increase in heart rate. All things that we runners train our bodies to prevent and resist. But what about mental endurance? Is that even a thing? And can we train it? 


Who better to ask than the elite marathoners of the On ZAP Endurance Team? They know a thing or two about endurance (the clue’s in the name). And there’s no doubt in any of their fatigue-resistant minds that the mental aspect of endurance can make the difference between achieving your goals and falling well short. 


Training Your Mind

Not only is mental endurance real, research shows it’s intrinsically connected to physical performance. In fact, the science recommends training with a calm mind where possible to avoid mental fatigue affecting your workout. That said, they also emphasize that having a tired mind isn’t a reason to skip training. Chances are, as many of us know, a run is a great way to help you switch off and de-stress. 


According to On ZAP Endurance’s Tyler Pennel, mental endurance is something the team works on just like they do their physical conditioning. 


“Mental strength is very important and while the brain is not a muscle, you can work on improving your mental endurance,” Tyler said. But how exactly?  


One obvious way is running longer, harder efforts. Especially if you’re training for a marathon, you need to be able to learn to relax and recover at different times in the race. Those longer efforts will help simulate that.  


For the team’s coach, Pete Rea, mental fortitude is a foundational element of being a strong distance runner. 


“Possessing the ‘I can overcome anything’ attitude is immensely important,” he explained. “No matter what setbacks are thrown your way, athletes who ‘keep coming’ no matter the bump in the road will more often prevail.”



The need to dig in when you get to the business-end of a long-distance event shows mental fortitude should be part of the training program for your distance.  While running high-intensity intervals is a great way to build strength and speed, it also gets you used to being in the “pain cave” period of suffering during a race. As Tyler stated, running LSD sessions (long, slow distance runs) is about building endurance performance both physically and mentally, as your body gets used to being out there for hours. 


However, the biggest test of mental resilience for runners often comes not during tough training sessions or even a race, but after an injury. 


Overcoming the Mental Impact of Injury

A part of the athlete mindset that’s often overlooked is a mindful approach to running. Mental strength can be shown in knowing when to back off or cut a run short rather than enduring the pain and ending up injured. That’s the dark side of wanting to be mentally tough and one that many runners learn about the hard way. 


Sometimes, however, injury is just part of being an endurance runner. And its affects can be more debilitating mentally than physically. 


One way Coach Rea helps On ZAP athletes deal with setbacks is by referring to history – to the runners that have bounced back.


The best runners have all seen injury, so I often use a great runner from the past and how they overcame injury to be better than ever as a motivator for our people.


“My experience has been – paradoxically – that most distance runners, particularly marathon runners, get injured with too much intensity. Generally it isn't the controlled aerobic mileage that brings on injury, it is too much hard, high-intensity training.


“The mental challenge is the hardest part of being injured. I have seen athletes get hurt and begin to question their innate abilities. Part of my job as a coach is to reinforce that talent does not go away, even during an injury.”  



2:15:46 marathoner Johnny Crain says he has learned not only how to manage the mental effects of injury, but to use the mind as a tool to get back out there faster. 


“You know I went through this period where I was not a fun person to be around but I began reading so much about how positive attitudes can really effect how fast our body recovers. 


“I began focusing on a new perspective: The fact that I have the support of the On ZAP team to get the right medical treatment and coach Pete always checking in. That I’m able to get behind my teammates’ performances, and get more involved in my own coaching. 


“No matter what position we're in, it’s about re-framing the issue to something that's more manageable and remembering that we're still so fortunate that we even have the ability to be upset that we can't go for a run.


“My athlete mindset is about acceptance and focusing on what I can control. I can only control my response to how my injury feels in order to make it feel better and that singular task should be a simple one.”


Talking of simple, check out our quick tips for developing an athlete’s endurance mindset below.



Your 6 Key Takeaways: The Athlete Mindset #2: Endure

1. Train hard, race easy

Train for the mental challenges you will face on raceday. If that’s a trail race, run long hills to prepare your mind for the climbs ahead. Make sure you run at race pace to find comfort in that discomfort. And run long to get used to the tricks the mind can play when you get beyond the two-hour mark. 


2. Get out there in all conditions

Consider mental preparations for varying conditions too. On-founder Olivier Bernhard, a former world champion duathlete, is a big proponent of the mantra “If you can’t train in it, you can’t race in it.” Whether it’s rain, snow or heat, get out there in all conditions. That way, even if the weather changes, you know you can endure whatever mother nature throws at you on race day with a calm mind.


Athlete Favorite: The Waterproof Anorak
On ZAP Endurance athlete Nicole DiMercurio: “My favorite running apparel piece is the Waterproof Anorak. I really don’t like the feeling of wet clothes (a totally weird pet peeve of mine) and it keeps me 100% dry on rainy days."
See the Anorak


3. Find your mantra

Most of us have a reason for running. No matter if it’s to qualify for an event, hit a target time, to show ourselves what we can achieve, to raise money for a good cause or in tribute to a loved one, that’s all powerful endurance ammo in the fight against fatigue. Use it. Repeat the goal or the name of a loved one over and over as you push forwards. 


4. Have the strength to stop 

Knowing when not to endure is also mental strength. Listen to your body. Have the mental strength to take a day off and be cool with it. To know when you’re in the danger zone and stop before injury strikes. 


5. Keep things simple

While the mind is anything but simple, Johnny Crain’s tip about keeping things simple is a valid one. Simplicity and decluttering goals and objectives is another often-recommended technique for calming the mind for maximum endurance performance. Whether that’s breaking down the final stages of your race into 1 km chunks or even passing the next lampost. Or taking injury rehab one day at a time, knowing that you’re doing all you can to aid your recovery. And yes, that usually means rest.  


6. Focus on the positives. And what you can control 

If a seemingly inevitable injury strikes, work to focus on the positives. That you will be back and that you’ll likely have renewed motivation as a result. Refer back to Coach Rea’s tip and remind yourself of the great runners that also suffered injuries. And what they went on to do afterwards. 



Johnny Crain’s athlete mindset is “about acceptance and focusing on what I can control.” Steel yourself against negativity by adopting the same approach. Focus on what you can affect and accept what you can’t. There are always positives to be found and focusing on them will help you get through tough times. If you’re injured, look a the chance to train other parts of the body that are often neglected. Use the time to look at your regime and make adjustments to come back stronger. Or to catch up with loved ones and friends. Training your mind to focus on the positives could turn a tough time into the catalyst to becoming a better athlete in future.          

The On Marathon Collection
Stay focused on your goals with the Swiss-engineered marathon essentials used by the On ZAP Endurance team. From training and racing shoes to Performance Apparel and accessories.
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