The mental game of marathon running is a big one. Training for months on end is a long time to commit to, and 42 gruelling kilometres is a long way. And then of course there’s the infamous wall during the race itself. No, we’re not talking about Pink Floyd’s 1982 album, or the Chinese wonder of the world that can be seen from space. We’re talking about the monstrous metaphorical mammoth that can stop runners in their tracks just a few kilometres from the finish line.
Mental Strategies to Help Marathon Runners
You get it, it’s not easy to run marathons. So, here are a few mental strategies you can adopt to help with the training process and perhaps during the race itself.
Understand your reason for running. Many of us run for a purpose. For ourselves or for loved ones, for teams or for charities. Keep this reason close to heart and let it propel you forward when motivation levels are on holiday mode.
Watch your language. No, we’re not acting as your mother telling you not to swear. Swear away. We’re saying not to let your inner voice implant doubt and anxieties. Instead of saying, ‘I hope I don’t go too slowly and lose my pace’, say ‘I don’t want to go slowly, I want to go at a good pace’. Positivity on the inside is just as important as those physical supporters on the side-lines.
Get into the groove – routines, routines, routines. While it might drive you mad watching Nadal set up to serve, bouncing the ball a million times, fiddling with his hair and sorting out his shorts, it’s all part of a routine. We’re not saying go to these lengths, but routines are very helpful for getting you into the right frame of mind on race day. Find something that’s easily repeatable and do it before each training session. It could just be walking backwards 10 paces, or taking 3 deep, long breaths. Being able to go through this on race day as if it’s just any other day should help to keep you calm.
Take it step by step. Not literally step by step for 42 kilometres but do set small goals. You don’t want to be looking too far into the future on race day. You want to be in the zone and the zone is the present state. Run the next kilometre or to the next hydration station, or even to the next lamppost. Then set yourself another goal and keep on going.
Keep your head up. This isn’t another positivity pep talk. We literally mean don’t just stare at the pavement the whole time! It’s really not that interesting down there. Of course, you have to watch your footing, but use your peripheral vision where you can and keep your eyes up as much as possible. When we feel pain, we often have a narrower focus. This results in us zooming in on that pain. Yeah, let’s not do that. Look up, look around – it will help to distract you away from discomfort. It will also allow you to take in the atmosphere of the race.
The end is not the end. Many professional athletes actually struggle mentally if they achieve their lifelong goal of winning gold at the Olympics or winning that major tournament. They’ve set goals all their life and achieved them all but have no more goals in sight. So, it’s crucial to set other goals for after your marathon event itself, whether it be running related or unrelated. This way, the race is just a stepping-stone and you can move on to the next goal once it’s over.
Running 42km is a Tough Task
Let’s face it, marathon running isn’t the most normal of hobbies. It’s an inherently extreme endeavour. And whilst you might not operate with a similar frame of mind to your next door neighbour (who prefers to run a thread through the eye of a needle and knit away rather than to run a kilometre or two), there are plenty of other people out there who share the same bizarre desire to push themselves to the extreme, all as part of an ‘enjoyable pastime’. Talk to these people, find out what mental strategies they use themselves.
42 kilometres is a tough task. But the mind is a powerful thing, and if you can overcome the mental struggle, often your body can overcome the physical struggle. As Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done”. Get out there and do it.