You might get your legs ready by logging all the miles prescribed by your training plan, but what about the other muscle? Your mind! Most people overlook the mental preparation that can make life during training (and those marathons) much easier. Last year, a study at Staffordshire University in the U.K. looked at 706 ultramarathoners and found that mental toughness accounts for 14 percent of racing success- fairly large chunk given that your race takes multiple hours to complete. Many marathoners feel dejected or depressed if they fall short of completing the run. This is not because you are not physically capable but because you lack the mental stamina. Bulk up your mental reserve now so you can tap into it on race day and make it to the finish line with these gems from sports psychologists who’ve worked with Olympic runners and marathon newbies alike.
Run for the right reasons
The biggest mental mistake many of us make is to tie what you’re doing to your self-worth. Measuring success on the basis of whether you hit a certain time or place piles on negative pressure from the very beginning. When you begin training, instead of a results-based goal, set a more self-fulfilling one, like challenging your previous record or trying to improve your fitness. When you do find yourself struggling, keep these reasons in mind to push yourself forward.
When it comes to running for cause many put unnecessary pressure on themselves out of fear of not living up to the memory or cause towards which they are running. “Many of the runners I work with run ‘in honor’ of someone, and they become terrified of not crossing the finish line and letting down that person in their life,” says Jeff Brown, Ph.D., a Boston Marathon psychologist, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard University, and author of The Winnerclinical. “People need to remember that they’re recognizing and honoring that person the moment they step up to the start line.”
Positivity trumps performance
“Usually when we’re trying to be positive on a run or in a race, we know we’re BS-ing ourselves,” says sports psychologist Steve Portenga, Ph.D., CEO of iPerformance Psychology. Although it might be great to tell yourself that you are the bees-knees, this infact is a horrible way to self-coach. Why? Because despite of all the positivity that you spread, it might not be necessarily true for that moment
Portenga suggests focusing on something that has more mental channel; in other words.. what your body feels like. Anytime you realize you’re having a good run, think about why that is: Are your shoulders laid back? Are you running at a light pace? Are you in the rhythm? Pick any one. So when you’re in the middle of a long run and begin to lose steam, bring your attention back to keeping your shoulders relaxed or whatever cue finds your fancy. This will not only physically improve the way you’re running but it will translate into a better mindset by keeping your focus on performance factors that you can actually control.
Visualize the tough parts
Fretting over the type of path you will be running over does more bad than good. If the race is in a nearby locality, go there before hand and check out the terrain for yourself. Run these parts to get over your intimidation way ahead of time. To familiarize yourself with the track, train your brain to pick up on visual markers. For example, if you pick a lamppost halfway down your track as a marker, when you are running you’ll actually know how far you’ve reached in the race.
Make markers a source of positivity, strength, or just a visual cue for how much farther you have to go. Take some time to sit down before the race to visualize running the hard parts and seeing your markers. “You’ll build it into your proactive brain that you’ve done this before,” says Brown. “Then you can use those markers as triggers to relax you as you come across them on race day,” says Brown.
Mind over matter
Concentrating on the run by staying in the moment is crucial to running well, because it sidetracks negative distractions like wondering how much the next mile will hurt or how you’ll ever reach the finish line. But this takes practice. Portenga suggests that one should meditate not to prevent the mind from wandering but to build awareness for when it does.
To start practicing, sit in a quiet room and focus on your breath and the movement of your stomach as it goes in and out. When you notice your mind wander to something else, bring your thoughts back to a focus on something like your breathing, footsteps, or something else you can control in that moment.
Know your fears
Think about all the things that could go wrong in the marathon and come to accept that this can happen. Come to terms with things that you dread the most. For example, knowing that running a marathon will probably be painful at some point. or you will be embarrassed if you have to stop or (god forbid) walk. Yes, you may be beaten by people 20 years older. But here’s the thing: The actual marathon is not even half as bad as what you cook it up to be. “If you consider all of those fears ahead of time, you minimize any surprises,” says Portenga, who suggests that first-timers should make it a point to talk to experienced marathoners and get to know what they were most concerned about and whether this concern was of any importance in the long run.
Make most of the adversity
The weather is something that runners have a love-hate relationship with. But the dreary rainy days when running feels like a slog are the perfect time to practice refocusing, since you are not aware of the conditions when actually running the marathon. “There’s a part of the brain responsible for adapting to unique and novel situations so that we’re more apt to navigate them better when we see them again.” says Brown
So next time you want to skip your run because the weather is getting you down, then that’s precisely what you shouldn’t be doing- because it may very well rain during your race. Prepare yourself for the unexpected. If you can’t run without music then head out with only one power bar left on your iPod to see what it’s like running to the plain sound of your movements. If you can get through a run with just a head cold, then there’s nothing much left that will intimidate you.