Marathon training for the mind

As we close in on April, like other marathon runners I’ve been increasing the distance of my long runs and spending three or more hours consistently running. Physically my muscles are coping with the distance but my mental muscles need a bit of work. Despite the experience of six marathons under my belt, my confidence and sense of calm for endurance running seems weakened. Self-doubt and impatience have been following my every step. I need to add some mental strategies to my training plan.

free your mind

For advice I first looked to my running guru, Running Coach G, an elite ultramarathon runner who knows the solitude and stamina of a 100 mile race. He gave me these great tips:

“Keeping focus on the task at hand is key. Getting to the end of your run is the most important thing you need to do at that time so spend it in the happy place in your mind.”

“The trick is to pick one or two things to focus on (like breathing pattern, body position, cadence)  for that specific run but to remember to enjoy the experience too. Keep a check on your focus points every now and then during the session and let yourself take in all the sights and sounds the rest of the time. Yes the aim is to perform better but if you force yourself to stay focused it may be detrimental to the later part of your run.”

“Over the years of coaching I have found that the body will give you signals to help you become a better athlete (and person in general). Self-doubt along with a few other mental downers are signs that you may be pushing yourself a bit too hard. This over exertion is most likely mental/psychological rather than physical so the best way to deal with it during a run is to slow down a bit, re-adjust your mindset, and when you are feeling that you are back in your happy place slowly start to build back up. This is the essence of mindful performance, endurance sport is about understanding both your body and mind.”

These points got me thinking and with some more research I’ve compiled a few extra strategies I’d like to implement:

As runners, we plan what to wear, how to get to the race, what we’ll eat, how we’ll pace, but what about planning a mental strategy? I’m going to anticipate how I’ll feel during the race, how I’ll react to any problems faced, and what thoughts might come to mind. I’ll write this down and read it back several times.

From now on I’ll be giving myself positive affirmations like “I am strong. I can do this” and seeking out sayings that evoke optimism to memorise for race day. This might be lines from songs that put me in a happy place (and there’s no place for snobbery here, cheesy pop is definitely allowed).

Ok, there must be a reason I’ve been running for ten years, but I’ve never pinpointed what it is. This year I’m running for Leonard Cheshire Disability and knowing I’m supporting a good cause is a real boost. But I’d support them any way I could, so why run? It’s time to do some soul searching to identify my motive so I have a reason to remind myself to keep going.

If you have mental strategies for running, let’s discuss them in the comments 🙂


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