How to mentally prepare for a marathon – four things we’ve learned from experts

Considering running a marathon? Find out why mental preparation is as important as your physical training – and four things experts recommend.  

Training for, and running, a marathon is as much about mental strength as it is about physical endurance. In fact, some might even argue the former is even more important than the latter.

From negative thoughts (“Why did I sign up for this?!”) to keeping motivation up, to then powering through the race itself – there’s a lot to be said for mind over matter when it comes to hitting that finish line.

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This is especially true when we’re trying to fit marathon training in and around already busy schedules. And that’s the case for most participants, who’ll usually find themselves miraculously fitting in long runs in between school runs, and training sessions before work.

So, in between dark winter nights and general self-doubt, how can we make sure we’re mentally strong enough to tackle one of the most gruelling – but undoubtedly rewarding – experiences of our lives?

Four things we’ve learned from the experts

As one of the London Marathon’s newest sponsors, trainer and sportswear brand New Balance recently ran an interesting piece of content delving into those vital parts of marathon training that often go overlooked.

guide on the ‘variables of victory’, it looked at how embarking on a series of miniscule ‘wins’ in the run up to the race can make you all the more likely to succeed on the day. They covered the obvious things like nutrition and exercise, but what was most interesting was their take on psychology in relation to marathon training.

Enlisting the help of psychologist Jo Davies, the guide tells all about those daunting mental battles we’ll undoubtedly find ourselves facing during training, and how to overcome them. Here are four things we’ve learned.

1) When marathon training, it’s important to set goals – and lots of them

You should think about goals as stepping stones in the months and weeks running up to the marathon. They’re the things that are going to get you from A (not prepared at all) to B (trained, capable and raring to go).

Whether you set yourself small, achievable tasks to do with your pacing, running technique, or breathing, or simply make more of passing key landmarks on your runs, defining realistic, tangible goals will help break your training and races up.

Without them, you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed by the size of the task at hand. But with them, things will feel genuinely achievable. It can really help to write your goals down too, in order to make them feel that bit more real.

2) It’s vital to keep the ‘why’ in mind at all times, especially when in doubt

When the going gets tough, either during training runs, tapering, or on race day itself, remembering why you’re running can provide an extra motivational boost. Consider what’s really fuelling you and use that to spur you on – whether it’s a special person or cause, or the amazing sense of self-satisfaction you’ll have when you finish.

By reminding yourself of why you signed up to do the race in the first place, you’ll keep yourself grounded and won’t lose sight of things.

3) Practicing mindfulness can be a great way to mentally prepare for a marathon

Practicing mindfulness is a great way to connect with your body and live in the moment, rather than panicking about what’s ahead.

Instead of questioning your body’s readiness, spend some time appreciating ‘living’ and ‘being’ in your body as it is, in the present moment. You might choose to enjoy a walk somewhere different, take a gentle swim, or search out some short mindfulness audios (there are plenty of resources online) that will allow you check in with your body via breathing exercises or a body scan.

This should help you to maintain a sense of calm throughout training, and keep you focused on your goals.

4) You need to learn to acknowledge your worries, not ignore them

One of the hardest things to get around during training is the onslaught of negative thoughts that can hit you either before a run, during it or after. The fact is, most of us have a tendency to beat ourselves up instead of congratulating ourselves on our achievements, or encouraging ourselves with positive thoughts.

But that’s not to say we’re abnormal in any way – in fact we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have negative thoughts somewhere along the way. The trick, then, is not to try to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist, but to acknowledge them and deal with them head on.

Try talking to a friend about your concerns, and listen to their advice. It can also help to write down a list of some of your recurring negative thoughts, and then write down a list of positive or motivational words that can counteract these misconceptions, such as ‘yes I can’ and ‘breath it in, run it out’. You can then practice these mantras on race day itself.

Don’t underestimate your mental marathon training

Training for a marathon is one of the most daunting and challenging things you’ll likely undertake in your life – but what that means is that the sense of reward at the end will be all the more sweet.

Just be sure not to underestimate the importance of mental training alongside the physical stuff. That way, you’ll be more than equipped to tackle the race, and have a good time doing it too.

Photo by Jake weirick