Marathon training is notorious for its time-consuming long runs and the endless hunger, aches, and preparation that comes with them. While increasing mileage during training is crucial for completing a marathon, it’s really only half the strategy. The other half comes from training your mind for the mental battle that comes during a marathon.
Mentally preparing to run a marathon is more complex than most runners think. Many runners find themselves conquering great training runs, only to wind up defeated on race day.
Why is this?
They failed to mentally prepare for the marathon.
Completing 26.2 miles is a challenging physical feat, but it’s important to remember the mental challenges that come along with the distance. Whether you’re a first-time marathoner or veteran runner, each marathon brings a new mental battle.
Last year, training for the New York City Marathon felt like a breeze. I completed each of my long runs, discovered some new secrets to make the mileage fly by, and felt confident heading into race day. My fifth marathon was going to be the best one yet.
But marathon race day brought many mental challenges.
The start time was hours after I’d been practicing during training.
It started to rain as soon as our corral crossed the Verrazano Bridge.
My right pinky toe rubbed against my shoe for nearly 20 miles.
And who knew that New York City was so hilly!?
My mindset was in a great place at the start of the race, but each and every unexpected challenge started to take its toll.
By the last few miles I was struggling to keep going and wondering why in the world I kept training for marathons.
There’s a reason so many veteran marathon runners talk about hitting “the wall” on race day: because it’s there every single time. No matter how many marathons you’ve run or how well you’ve training, facing 26.2 miles brings a mental battle every time.
Luckily, there are many strategies you can practice during marathon training.
These tactics help to mentally prepare yourself to face this wall and the battles that come with it.
Conquering the mental roadblocks during a marathon requires a level of mental toughness that needs to be strengthened, just like our bodies. Dedicating time to mental preparation during marathon training will pay off in the long run – literally – and ensure you are prepared for whatever comes your way on race day.
5 Tricks to Prepare for the Mental Battle of a Marathon
Anticipate and create a plan for obstacles.
Understanding the fact that regardless of how your training has gone, you will encounter obstacles is a great first step. Even if you’ve followed your marathon training plan to a tee, race day brings a new course, distance and setting. Along with these factors comes many unpredictable variables.
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It is impossible to head into race day knowing every single thing that will come your way, so mentally prepare by acknowledging that you are bound to face obstacles. Mental roadblocks are bound to occur so come up with a game plan for how you will face them.
Dedicate each mile to someone or something.
One great strategy to get you through the mental battle is to dedicate your run or each mile for something or someone else. Running for a reason gives you purpose, and helps you push through the moments when you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll make it.
Dedicating your miles to something other than yourself puts something else on the line when you contemplate quitting. Succumbing to the mental battle no longer affects just you, it affects your purpose as well.
Break up the distance in your mind.
Running 26.2 miles sounds really long and looking at the course map makes that distance look even longer. Starting out at mile one and thinking that you have 25 miles to go may feel impossible. Rather than thinking of the distance as a whole, break it up into smaller chunks.
Related: How to Have Your Best Long Run Ever
Think about the distance as two sections of 13.1, just about five 5 mile runs, or just about six 4 mile runs. Visualizing yourself running your usual 4 or 5 mile route seems a lot more manageable than heading out for a 26 mile run.
Look through the course map and break it up into sections – run until you hit certain land marks, through different areas, or to a spot where your family will be watching. Take the distance one small section at a time. It might feel impossible when you have 24 miles to go, but aiming to get to that first 4 mile point, and then the next, etc. is much more feasible.
Visualize yourself finishing.
Picture yourself crossing the finish line. Imagine the pride and elation you will feel after completing the full distance. Mental imagery is a positive tool that we so often forget about. Focusing on the positive aspects of a marathon – the accomplishment, strength, and pride you gain from the race – when you are at a low point will motivate you to keep going.
Reframing your mindset is a great way to keep your focus away from the pain you are feeling and help you focus on something else. Positive thinking may actually help rid some of your pain and help you power through those obstacles.
Run your own race.
Completing a race, no matter how big or small, presents many opportunities for comparison. It’s easy to get stuck in the trap of comparing yourself to the other runners around you, the spectators, or anyone else you may see along the way.
During these times, it’s important to run your own race. Remind yourself of your goals, why you set out to run this race, and what you want to gain from it. Support your fellow runners and thank the spectators, but don’t get caught up in the fact that others look stronger, better, or faster than you.
Stay focused on your purpose and cheer on others along the way. When you find yourself struggling with comparison, focus on your breathing, your steps, the music, the views, or anything else to distract you from what others are doing. Take in the experience and make the most of it.
Running a marathon is far from just a physical feat. Running a marathon takes strength, determination, mental stamina, and above all else – perseverance. 26.2 miles is no easy distance, and getting there requires any runner to overcome numerous obstacles.
Our mind is one of our greatest tools in life, so taking the time to reframe our thinking and gain mental strength will pay off in so many ways. Facing the mental challenges that come along with a marathon will help you in life even after the race is complete.
Keep up the training, enjoy your long runs, visualize the finish line, and don’t forget to mentally prepare for the marathon along the way.