Training the mind

The Marathon presents one of the greatest challenges both physically and mentally. Now is the time that we start to get into some seriously long runs, some serious fatigue, and some serious self-doubts. Needs some mental help? 

We are just 9 weeks from the Marathon Weekend.   You need a game plan to get your mind prepared just like you need a game plan to get your body physically prepared.  And, this game plan needs to be practice and employed regularly just like your training runs.  Below are some simple strategies to practice to get your mind as fit as your body!  

  1. Maintain a positive attitude.  This seems like common sense, but it’s a tough one when it is 34 degrees, 25mph winds, and a driving cold rain facing you for a long training run.  Remember that your attitude is a CHOICE.  You can CHOOSE positivity! We need to maintain perspective on what we are doing:  going for your long run on a less than ideal weather condition day will simply mean you need to adjust the outcome goals (perhaps an adjustment to the pace). This will carry right over to marathon day – we may not get the perfect weather day, but we will be stuck with whatever the weather brings.  Therefore we need to accept, adjust, and be positive. This will lead to a positive mindset and positive experience.  Maintain balance between your training and the rest of your life, too.  Successful athletes approach training, racing, and life in general with a positive outlook.  It’s a choice they make. 

  2. Use positive self-talk.  This ties into #1.  Successful athletes maintain their self-confidence during a difficult training run, or that wall at 22 miles, by talking to themselves just like they would talk to their best friend.  Simple statements such as, “you’re strong”, “you’re smooth”, “relax breathing”, “relax arms”, or “this is MY day” can give a quick cue to yourself to help you through.  Use self-talk to regulate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during your training runs and race day.  It’s normal to have self-doubt creep in, but the successful athletes will be able to SQUASH that negative thought and replace with positive self-talk.  I had certain key phrases that I used in training runs and races that applied to build confidence and talk myself through a rough patch.  “You’re prepared” is one that helped me on the starting line, “trust yourself” is one that I used when I started to get fatigued or when I needed to make a bold move – I needed to trust that my body was prepared to handle the task ahead. If you’re not sure what works for you, start to jot down some key phrases that hit a cord with you; that are meaningful to you, and then test them during your training runs.

  3. Manage anxiety effectively. You need to accept that anxiety is part of sport.  If an elite athlete tells you they are never anxious they are simply lying! The good news is that some anxiety is GOOD and can help you perform well!  However, there is a limit and TOO much anxiety pushes you into the negative zone.  Have some strategies to reduce anxiety when you feel it creeping up too much.  For some, this might be listening to music, talking to a friend, deep breathing exercises.  Each person is different in what works, so find what works for you and practice. 

  4. Keep a training log.  Writing down your workouts, long runs, and easy runs each week is a way to gauge your progress, track your training, and show that you are building strength each week.  It’s tough to see the big picture each day.  But, by occasionally glancing back at the training, you will see the gains you’ve made, the strength you’ve built, and you can use this to build your mental confidence that you are prepared! I kept a diligent training log.  I would review key workouts before a big race, and know that I was prepared. 

  5. Have a back-up plan.  You all know that despite the best planning, things can go astray.  So, have a “plan B” as a back-up.  For example, you get to race weekend and you see that the weather is suddenly going to be hot and humid, after a cold winter of training.  You will need to adjust your pace to the weather.  Time goal must be changed to have a successful race.  Adjust to meet your new plan and goal. 

Remember, a lot of preparation goes for just 1 day of execution.  Each training session allow yourself to enter the role of the athlete.  We all have life – family, work, etc.  Allow your training session to be your time.  Block out distractions, set aside work, and practice the mental skills above.  Race day will come, you will be prepared both physically and mentally to ace the day!

Vicki is a distinguished athlete and international competitor, Vicki competed in the 1996 US Olympic Trials in the 10,000 run. She made her marathon debut at the 1999 Hong Kong Marathon, where she qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials. In 2001, she was invited to join the Fila Discovery USA training program, a program designed to develop American distance runners into elite marathon athletes able to compete with the best in the world. She has been a member of five USA national teams, including the 1993 World University Games and 1998 IAAF World Road Race Championship in Manaus, Brazil.