Mental Training For Marathons

When we train for a marathon, we concentrate SO much on our bodies and the physical stuff: we log miles after mile of long runs, recovery runs, tempo runs, mile repeats  – my favorite 😉 , hill repeats, etc.  We take care of our body with epsom baths, foam rollers, recovery socks (love those things!) and red wine healthy recovery drinks.  My guess would be that most 95% of the training that the average marathoner does focuses on this physical stuff.*

So what is the other part of marathon training then?  The part that most of us only spend about 5% of our time on?**  MENTAL training.  Preparing the mind to run 26.2 miles.  Why do we spend so little time on this?  We should be spending FAR more time on mental training.  And I DO have scientific support for the proposition that we should spend more time on mental training for a marathon:  See marathons number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9. 🙂  Sure, I could blame my crappy performances on things like rain, heat, leg cramps, wind (fucking Lansing) etc., but really, what those races ultimately boiled down to was inadequate mental preparation for the marathon.

What is mental training?  Essentially wrapping your mind around being able to cover the distance in your goal time.  Your physical body can be ready, but if your mind isn’t on board, it will F with you at mile 17 or 20 or 22 or wherever.  And once that happens, if you don’t have your mental game together, you are done for.  Really.  I KNOW this.  I BELIEVE this.  I have had two good marathons, where my mental game was ON.  Twin Cities 2010 (BQ! Sort of) and Twin Cities 2011 (BQ!).  Both races were so much more than a physical victory for me – they were mental victories because I pushed through.  My best mental victory though was recently, at Grandma’s half marathon, because I never gave up and pushed through from the start until the very end.

So how do we train ourselves mentally to be able to push through a marathon?  There are so many different ways that I couldn’t possibly list them.  I think each runner has to find what works for them.  Some things that I’ve experimented with are

  • Visualization.  Sounds dorky, but I did it prior to Twin Cities Marathon 2011 and it worked; I spent a lot of time during the training cycle really THINKING about what my race would look like and visualizing it and visualizing me pushing through the difficult parts)
  • Mantras.  Again, sounds dorky, but it works.  I have different mantras that I use for different races and different points in my life/training.  The key is pick a short phrase that is meaningful to you and that you can repeat and call upon during the race when things get hard.  My “go to” mantra for the past couple years has been “Make Today Count”.  I even have it engraved on a dog tag type necklace that I wear in races.  It helps me during the race when things get tough to actually touch my dog tag and repeat “Make Today Count”.  Cheesy, but it really helps me push through.
  • Pushing through really kick-ass workouts.  Instead of giving up during the tough intervals because it’s “only” a training workout – push through.  It will not only make you physically strong, but you will be mentally stronger on race day, knowing that you survived some really tough workouts.
  • Having some great tune up races.  If you have a good tune up race in the weeks/months before your goal race, it will likely give you the mental confidence to know that you can do the goal race in the time you desire.
  • Believe.  Maybe the biggest thing, in my opinion, is just not letting yourself get sucked down with negative thoughts about your training or performance.  BELIEVE that because you put in the hard work, you will achieve your goal.  Believe in yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I plan on spending ALOT more time on mental training this time around.

*I completely pulled 95% out of the air; no scientific support for this number, just a guess.  So don’t be using http://www.runninfromthelaw.com as a resource for this number.

**I also pulled this 5% number out of the air.  100 – 95 = 5. 🙂

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