If you’ve ever attempted to run a marathon, then you know there’s some truth to the saying that running is 90% mental.
Yet, despite how challenging conquering the 26.2-mile distance can be, few runners spend time preparing mentally for the race, choosing instead to focus on the physical challenges that distance presents.
The truth of the matter is that if you want to take your marathon performance to the next level, you’ll need to spend some time developing your mental approach. To help you do that, we asked sports psychologist Andy Lane who works closely with endurance athletes for advice on how runners can mentally prepare for a marathon.
Read on to find out: when considering how to prepare for a marathon, should you really be training your mind?
How To Prepare For A Marathon Before The Race
How you deal with these problems during training is likely similar to how you’ll deal with similar difficulties during the race itself.
Chances are if you’ve trained for long-distance races before you’ve already trained your mind to some extent. That’s because all those training miles logged leading up to the event can be taxing, forcing you to mentally overcome challenges when your training isn’t going as planned.
According to Lane, learning to take the right approach during training is the first step in developing a better mindset on race day.
“You need to be conscious about how physical training can build mental training,” Lane says. “A long run is challenging, and so mentally rehearsing what you might say to yourself, how you will think, and how you will talk yourself into continuing is good mental preparation.”
While the specifics of how you go about this can vary from person to person, every runner should find a strategy during training that works for them. Like anything else, it can take some practice to find your own personal mental training method.
Build a mental picture of yourself that you can use when you aren’t performing as expected.
One aspect Lane has runners work on is building a mental picture of yourself that you can use when you aren’t performing as expected. “Psychological skills such as imagery, mentally rehearsing yourself performing, and self-talk should be a key part of your preparation,” Lane says.
During your long runs and other hard sessions like intervals, Lane also recommends focusing on what you can control when things get tough.
“Focus on holding a rhythm, holding good technique, or holding a cadence. A goal of holding your ideal running cadence even if your pace slows is a good strategy.”
How To Maintain Mental Strength During the Marathon
Even though you’ve got a plan and have put in the work, most runners are well aware that things rarely go as planned on race day – this is just as true physically as it is mentally.
In fact, the moments before the race even begins at the start line often present a big problem for runners.
“There can be a lot of anxiety at the start,” Lane says.
There’s a lot to worry about (and too many unanswered questions can create uncertainty):
- Will you achieve your goal?
- Will you get tired too early?
- Will you get the pacing right?
- Will there be drinks when you need them?
Here are some of the mental strategies Lane recommends to help keep anxiety from taking over during the race.
Mental marathon race strategy 1: Focus on the moment
Firstly, it’s useful to try to focus on the moment instead of the finish line.
Reduce your concentration to the moment you’re in right now. Keep your goal narrow and short and say to yourself, ‘the next five minutes.’
The focus of the goal can then shift to holding a good rhythm. Count the rhythm as a mantra and say ‘you can do this’ to yourself.
Just be positive and focus on the process.
MENTAL MARATHON RACE STRATEGY 2: Use Positive Thinking
While remaining calm and trusting in the work you’ve put in can relieve some of the stress and pre-race jitters, the start line isn’t the only place where doubts and negative thinking can affect your psyche.
During the course of a marathon, there will be portions of the race that challenge your mental fortitude – no matter if you’re a middle of the pack runner or an elite professional.
When this happens, there are a few things you can do.
Positive beliefs lead to positive emotions, and these can have energizing effects.
When you hit a rough-patch it helps to have a strategy to cope, and so when you hit it, you have a plan. One strategy is to try to get some energy or nutrition in.
You can say to yourself: “This energy will help me run” or “I need water to reduce my heat”. When you link a positive belief to the fluid intake, you’ll start to feel better after you get something to drink. If you hold powerful beliefs that a gel or an energy drink will work, then it’s likely to be helpful.
MENTAL MARATHON RACE STRATEGY 3: Remind yourself of the “why”
Another race-day strategy you can try as part of your pre-race mental training is reminding yourself of the reason why you decided to train for such a grueling event in the first place.
Focus on the reason why you’re doing the run, why it’s important. Drawing on this when you need it can bring up powerful emotions. Many charity runners have such a reason and it may well be just the reason they need to keep going – all the way to the finish line.
Now you know how to prepare for a marathon mentally. Discover more tips and tricks for nailing food, prep, and recovery.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.