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Turning Fear into Strength: Elevating The Mindset of Endurance Athletes

Turning Fear into Strength: Elevating The Mindset of Endurance Athletes by JoAnne Bullard for Run Tri Bike

Endurance athletes tackle numerous physical demands associated with their sport, which require them to push past their physical limits. The need to move past these physical limits is usually a shared understanding among this community. What many endurance athletes don’t share is the struggle they might encounter when experiencing fear. Fear is extremely common among endurance athletes, regardless of their age or experience level. Turning fear into strength is one of an endurance athlete’s most powerful tools. Understanding how to do this can elevate your performance during training as well as racing.

Unmasking Fear: A Natural Human Response

Fear is a natural human response. It is how our mind and body communicate to protect us when we experience a stimulus that we perceive as a threat. This response is linked to the “fight or flight” instinct. Athletes can manifest fear in various ways, including the following.  Some athletes may experience fear of failure, where they are concerned about not meeting their goals, falling short of expectations, or not finishing a race. Athletes might also experience fear of pain, which is associated with the physical discomfort they might experience being viewed as intimidating. Fear of the unknown, also known as the “what-ifs,” can make athletes anxious about challenges they cannot predict. The risk of becoming injured can be perceived as daunting and derail an athlete’s progress throughout their training.

Types of Fear in Endurance Sports

Understanding that fear is an element most athletes will encounter can help an athlete recognize the importance of being proactive. Here are a few suggestions of where to start the process. Establishing clear, specific goals to help make a daunting training session or race feel more manageable will help to reduce the fear of failure. Visualizing success can also assist athletes in conquering fears. Using strong imagery practices can help an athlete see themselves completing the event, visualize each detail, and see themselves successfully cross the finish line!

Some athletes fear the discomfort and pain they experience during their training and races. Learning to embrace the discomfort can help build mental resilience and combat the fear of pain. Being prepared and educated will assist an athlete in feeling like they have a solid race strategy and manage the “what-ifs” they could experience. Becoming familiar with the course, asking questions to race veterans, and practicing under similar conditions can assist in addressing potential fears.

Turning Fear Into Strength: Strategies for Endurance Athletes

Self-awareness is key when working towards understanding the root cause of fears. Athletes who incorporate specific strategies throughout their training can help prepare them by turning fear into strength.  Here are some aspects to consider:

  1. Resilience: Overcoming fear cultivates resilience. Recognize that each training session pushes you outside your comfort zone and strengthens your mindset.
  2. Mindfulness: Incorporating mindfulness and self-reflective techniques throughout your training can assist you with staying present during races. Staying present in the moment can assist in managing fear by controlling the sense of feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Motivation: Fear can be a powerful motivator- it’s all in the perception! Channel the fear into training. When fear of failure creeps in, stay connected to your goals and the hard work you’ve put in throughout the training cycle.
  4. Support Network: Lean on your support network when struggling. Sharing your fears and receiving encouragement assists you in not feeling isolated and recognizing the normalcy that surrounds fears. Your support system can also provide suggestions to help manage the fears.
  5. Focus:  When facing a challenging moment during a race or training session, acknowledge the fear, but do not let it control you. Instead, concentrate on the task you are working towards accomplishing. Allow the fear to sharpen your focus.

Self-Awareness: Uncovering the Roots of Fear

Understanding the stimuli that cause athletes to experience fear, embracing it as a natural part of the journey, and using it as a source of motivation can assist athletes in becoming resilient and turning their fears into strengths. Always remember fear is not the enemy. Choosing to view fear as a challenge can serve as a strong catalyst for growth. Turning fear into a strength can help an athlete’s mental as well as physical development!


Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.