Marathon Mental Toughness

by Brian Loeffler May 12, 2015

Most runners are aware of the importance of marathon taper-resting the body so you can maximize your potential on race day.  The 3 week taper is well known.  The body recovers form all the hard training; muscle tissues are repairs, glycogen stores are replenished and you a physically peaking.  However  there is another component of the marathon taper that is often overlooked, the mental aspect.  Running a marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.  If you are not mentally ready for the challenge, you will not achieve peak performance on race day.  Three weeks out form the marathon, you have done all the physical training necessary to compete at your best.  This is the time to focus on your mental preparation, aka “Getting your Game on”.

Over the course of my athletic career, I considered mental training just as important as the physical training.  Below are some mental training strategies that will help you achieve a state the  mental readiness required to conquer the marathon and achieve your goals.

Confidence: Since, you are in your race week, fit, and ready to race, you have committed yourself to you goal, and gained some confidence throughout your training cycle.  Look back at your training log and draw confidence from your training cycle.  Recall the hard sessions where you persevered.  Put them in your memory bank and pull them out when things get rough on race day.

Visualize: Each day spend 20 minutes visualizing your race. Close your eyes before you get out of bed in the morning and play out the race in your mind.  See yourself the morning of the race; calm, organized and your emotions are controlled.  See yourself at the starting line, on the course pushing hard, racing smart and see yourself crossing the finish line. Visualize success.  If you visualize success over and over again, chances are you can will it to happen on race day.

Focus: I believe this is the most important mental component that you need both before and during the race.  A positive focus triggers positive actions, thereby making your goals more achievable.   Direct your focus internally. Focus on your personal performance rather than a desired outcome.  Only focus on what you can control.  Do not focus on the weather or your competition.  You can’t control them.  Always stay in the moment and focus on the here and now.  Don’t dwell on how many miles you have left or how hard the last 10K will be.  Focus on the task at hand; running each mile as efficiently as possible.  Don’t over think it, simply do what you have trained your body to do day in and day out.

Cues: Have mental and biomechanical cues or key words that you will recite to yourself throughout the race. Examples include; I am strong, I am confident, run from your hips, quick cadence, run tall…….Focusing on the mechanics of running and a positive attitude are much more productive than telling yourself to push harder or suck up!

Distraction Control: To keep your positive, internal focus, it is critical to employ emotional and distraction control skills.  Remember, emotions affect focus and focus affects performance.  Some degree of anxiety or pre-race nerves are beneficial and it drives us in racing, yet too much of it can be paralyzing and exhaustive. Learn to control your emotions before and during competition.  Foresee potential distractions and emotions and develop strategies to control your emotions and keep your anxiety in check.  You must always remain centered; a feeling when you are confident and ready to perform.

If you physically trained AND mentally prepared, you’re goals are more likely to be realized.   Remember the mind always has the last say in how you perform.   Game on!

-Kim Loeffler, M.S. Exercise Physiology, Running and Triathlon Coach