Author- Cobie Starcevich
So you've signed up for your first mararthon. Well done! You've diligently completely a progressive 3 month training plan, safely upping the k's and surprising yourself (and your friends!) after being able to run one or two 32km long runs. Awesome! Now it's 6am and your standing at the starting line with hundreds of other nervous runners facing up to 6 hours of exercise on a Sunday, when most people would be tucked up in bed. How ridiculous!
You've done all the physical preparation, but are you mentally prepared for coping with the battle your mind if about to put up? No one said a marathon was comfortable, and your brain being the considerate and intelligent organ that it is wants you to ultimately be seek safety and comfort. So naturally we need some tools of our own in dealing with our thoughts in order to get us to that finish line and achieve our goal.
Staring down the barrel of a 42.2km run can be extremely daunting, and your mind can and will do it's best to talk you out of what you are about to do. If you've got yourself to this point, a 7km run seems as easy as a walk in the park right? So think of the mara 6 little 7km runs. Breaking it down into "little runs" allows you to retain your focus and feel a sense of achievement for each "little run" you tick off, keeping you in a positive mindset. This will keep you feeling motivated during the race and you will surprise yourself with how far you can go by doing this.
"If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things."– Albert Einstein
This strategy works well for your longs runs in training in the lead up to the big one. Another way to break it down is to think of in terms of songs- "only 3 songs left until the end of my run", which is around a couple of K's (depending on your pace). Using external pacing, like music, is a powerful motivator to get you to where you need to be.
The prize being the feeling of accomplishment after you cross the finish line! Visualize the crowd cheering you on, the colourful banners, the pumping music, and the feeling of pride and joy after you finally cross that line after all those months of training to achieve a goal that will be with you for a lifetime. Focus on the process, not the outcome!
One of the strongest findings today in sports psychology is that successful performers consistently differ from unsuccessful performers in their level of self-confidence and self-efficacy (2). Confidence isn't just about thinking positively, it's based on a number of factors such as your past performance and uncertainty. Feeling in control can boost your confidence. You have control over the process- one foot in front of the other!
Training for a mara can be very time consuming. Hundreds of hours are spent pounding the pavement in order to rack up those k's necessary to safely build your endurance and hone your running technique for the big race. Every couple of weeks you run longer than you even did before, and you push yourself to new limits you haven't experienced. The physical sensations of fatigue and discomfort can be hard to overcome and push through.
Dissociation techniques are routinely recommended to shift your attention from unpleasant bodily sensations to other stimuli that are positive and engaging(1). For instance, running can be an excellent time to think about what you want, make plans for the future and think about what's been bothering you or your grateful for at this point in time. You can daydream about where you want to go on your next holiday, or what you want to do with you career or house. Or even something as simple as sorting out what you are going to do for dinner! Runners often say that they feel running is their form of therapy, or meditation. Once you learn to direct your thoughts away from the unpleasant physical sensations, it can be a great time to engage with yourself on a mental level.
...Part 2 coming soon...
Do you have any tricks you use to get you to your goal? Leave a comment, we'd love to hear them!
(1) Lind E (2009): Do "Mind over Muscle" strategies work? Examining the Effects of Attention, Association and Dissociation on Exertional, Effective and Psychological Responses to Exercises. Jr Sports Med; 39 (9): 743-764
(2) Brewer B.W. et al (2009): Handbook of Sports Medicine and Sports Psychology. Chapter 2- Motivation. http://www.imd.inder.cu/adjuntos/article/565/Sport%20Psychology.pdf#page=61