Mental Tricks for a Marathon Edge
It’s no secret that the marathon is physically tough, but what many forget is that it is also a huge mental challenge. In fact, I would argue that the marathon is much more of a mental race than a physical one, making it all the more important to train your brain.
I’ve run 7 marathons now, and can honestly say that only 2 of those 7 went well. Much of my negative marathon experiences had to do with my mental strategy. I would start off the race feeling great (usually too fast), but then by mile 16 or 17 when my body started to fatigue, my brain would quit. “This is too hard.” “I’m having ANOTHER bad marathon.” “I give up.” were all things that I would say to myself, and sure enough by mile 20 I would start the death march to the finish line.
But something changed during my last marathon. I started out conservatively, I never hit the dreaded wall, and I kept my mental game strong. The result? A huge PR and my first BQ. Naturally, I was ecstatic, but now as I train for my 8th marathon this December, I’m desperate to figure out what went right and how to repeat that experience.
Finding strong mental strategies is important for running a strong marathon. I’m no coach, and I have no formal running training, but I went back over my logs and found the best mental strategies that I used for marathon race day. Here are four ways to gain your mental edge:
1.Visualize Your Best
Whether you’re feeling good or bad during the run, visualize yourself running at your best. See clearly your good, comfortable, and powerful form, see yourself gliding along the course, and feel your breath easily finding rhythm. Having trouble? Try tapping into a particularly good training run. Remember the ease at which you ran and the comfort in which your body felt. Channel that energy and let it guide you during the race. Using visualization to feel strong is a powerful tactic, and one that many elites, including Olympian Deena Kastor, utilize during big performances.
2. Eliminate Negativity
Don’t waste precious energy on negative chatter, criticism, or complaint. In fact, don’t let your brain entertain these thoughts at all. Remember, for every negative thought you have during the race, one less positive thought can be present. Instead, put your mental energy into positive self-talk and positive affirmations. Perhaps the race isn’t going according to plan, but the weather is beautiful and your friends and family are cheering along the course. Focus energy on the positive, and stop complaining, after all, races are supposed to be fun!
3. Stay Positive
Staying positive, even when things get tough is the most important thing to remember during a marathon. It can be easy to spiral into a negative feedback loop, so if you find your thoughts creeping in the wrong direction, try reframing the situation. If you’re having a particularly rough time, try smiling, really! Smiling has the power to trick your brain into thinking things are going well. Smile at the kids giving high-fives, smile at the race volunteers, and smile at the runner plugging along next to you. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling positive and happy in no time.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
The above strategies are useless if you don’t take the time to practice them during training. Practice visualizing a strong race on ALL of your runs, short and long, and especially during your hard workouts. (You can even practice when you’re not running!) Practice letting go of negative thoughts and re-focusing your energy on positive self-talk. Even practice smiling on the run. While practice takes time and patience, the more you utilize positive mental strategies, the easier they will come to you on race day.
Mental toughness is a tricky thing to learn, and an even harder thing to dial-in when things get hard. With much practice, visualization, eliminating negative thoughts, and positive self-talk can get you through the rough parts of any race. Good luck!