Preparing for a marathon has many challenges. Most familiar to marathon runners are the physical challenges and milestones. Regardless of the marathon training plan you chose, there will be well-defined goals and markers of progress – did you reach your miles for the week? How about times? You will probably have a specific goal for race day as well; you might be aiming for a personal record, or you might be happy to finish the race without injury.
But what about the mental part of running? Often overlooked, having an approach to preparing your mind is equally important. Finishing a marathon – or any race – successfully requires mental strength. And, like running, you need to practice over time for the best results. Here are some tips for improving mental fortitude.
Set a goal. Be honest with yourself. First race? Hoping to finish? Do not be ashamed if a short walk is needed during the race. Keep focused on the goal – finishing the race. If your objective is to meet or beat a certain time, prepare for that and stay focused as you chip away at each milestone. Having a clear goal allows you to stay zeroed in on what matters most when the run is most difficult.
Visualize Victory. Take your goal and see it happening in your mind. This is a good technique to use during the most difficult parts of the race. Realize the objective you had in mind. See yourself meeting the marks you set. See yourself finishing the race. Use this to stay on point and focused. Visualization can also be a welcome distraction as you put effort into each mile.
Voice in your head. We all have one. Some people are better at quieting the voices in their heads than others. As you approach the end of a hard effort, what is your voice telling you? “You can’t make it!” or “This knee pain is serious – you better stop or you are going to hurt yourself!” As you log your training runs, pay attention to the voice in your head and see what techniques work to help keep it at bay. The more you practice these techniques the better you will be at it. If you are racing for the first time – this voice can be loudest at the last miles. When you hit a wall, the voice can be deafening. Put techniques in place now, and stick to them as you get through your last few miles on race day.
Race Day Nerves. If you have raced before, spend time thinking about how you felt prior to the race. Start the night before. Think of the morning – both at home and while at the race in the final minutes before the start. Where did your mind go? What did you focus on? If this is your first race, try to think of other times that made you nervous. How did you react? What did you feel? Be prepared for this. In addition to knowing and understanding your tendencies, think of several simple exercises you can do to calm your mind.
- Create a mantra – a phrase you say to yourself over and over prior to race start. Mine is, “You can do this. You are prepared. Have fun!” Repeat your mantra over and over again to help find the rhythm you need to start the race.
- Do a short run, jumping jacks, pushups, or something physical to get your body firing and your mind quiet.
- Use breathing techniques. Call on meditation practices to use you breathing to center your mind and your nerves. Focus on your breathing – and concentrating on the simple and basic task of breathing – to help keep your mind focused.
There are many ways to improve your mental approach to running a marathon. Use these tips to start your own personal focus on mental preparation - and regardless of which plan you create – practice it before race day for best success!