Athletes require training for their mind as well as their bodies. As a matter of fact, training for any type of sporting event, especially one as grueling as a marathon, is 90% in the mind. It is the mind that controls the body, and it can do amazing things to get your body to go above and beyond what you think your body is capable of.
In order to compete in an event like a marathon you have to get your mind prepared to handle the challenges that lie ahead. Your body is going to tell you it is tired, long before that 26.2 mile finish line. Your brain is what has to convince your body is can do it.
It takes months of preparation, and you need to start off with short runs, and gradually working up to long runs. You can’t just decide the day before an event that you are going to run.
You are bound to encounter some “bad patches” in the later miles of the race. You have to develop the mental toughness and coping skills that will add to your confidence and help you avoid running into that dreaded “wall,” especially when you get to that 20-mile marker. The point here is, if you are mentally prepared you can overcome these obstacles – and each part of the race presents new challenges.
1. Start out with the proper mindset - believe you can do it!
2. Do all the important pre-race preparation – getting extra sleep, drinking more fluids, loading up on carbs, forgetting other distractions (like what you forgot to do at work).
3. Get “race head.” That’s the period of time in the weeks building up to the race where the runner gets mentally prepared for the challenge.
4. On race day your adrenaline is pumping and your brain is at it’s sharpest. The first few miles will seem to fly by, but that rush will not hold up for the entire race. You will have to be able to draw from some other resources in order to complete your journey.
5. The key to running a race is to run it smart. Start off slow, running the first half of the race slower than you will during the last half. Marathoners call this the “negative split,” and it is key to running a smart and fun race. Your body will thank you later.
6. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Don’t let other people passing you influence you to want to run faster. If you run your own race, at your own pace, you probably will pass them up later on, when they get tired from running too fast too soon.
7. During the first portion of the race you will have the most energy, and will want to greet your family and friends who are cheering you on with a high five. Keep your emotions in check – you’re going to need it later. Nod and keep going, don’t slow down or stop for even a second.
8. When it seems there is no end, start to take things in smaller segments. Tell yourself you’re half way to 20 miles, and then it’s just 6 to go, or at mile 17 say, “One six mile race and then it’s just 5K to go.” Don’t think of it as 16.2 miles more to go. Keep your mind on smaller distances that seem easy to manage.
9. Stay positive. The longer you go the more you will start to doubt you will be able to finish. The pain is starting to set in as your body is depleting its resources. You have trained for this and are prepared. Keep tough! Keep your mind occupied with diversions: sing songs, recite the words of a play, and use “boredom-battling tricks.” Keeping your mind occupied will take it away from the pain your body is feeling, and make the time go faster.
10. When you have passed the “20 mile wall” take your mind away from your body and turn your focus to outside the race. Look at the spectators and the signs they are carrying; discover the scenery as you pass.
11. Use imagery – visualize yourself gracefully crossing that finish line and the finish line tape wrapping around you as you pass. Think about the after-race party and the celebration. Play “road games” like you did as a kid in a car – How many people do you see with red shirts? How many can you count are wearing blue hats? Make games for yourself to keep your mind occupied.
12. Continue to take the course in small bits – mile by mile. You are going to need to dig deep into your mind for strength, but you are almost there. You can do it, and you brain is helping you along. Talk to yourself; tell yourself you are proud of what you have accomplished and how good you will feel about yourself when you cross that finish line.
You have now come to the end of the race, and you have passed all the mental tests you needed with flying colors! Now it’s time to party!