10 tips for mental preparation for running a marathon

My challenge for 2016 is to run four UK marathons in one year starting in Manchester and ending in Chelmsford, to highlight that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. 

I have been asked on Instagram about my own mental preparation for marathons, so I want to share 10 tips that I use. You may find that some of these do, or do not work for you. The important thing is to find what works for you and to use it.

1. Negative self talk: Write a list of the common negative comments you use to beat yourself down when your running, and write a list of your own positive response affirmations to reset your clarity and focus.

2. Confidence: This is gained by following your training programme, think about how you completed all of those long training runs. Think about those times you thought you wouldn’t pull through, but you did. Draw on those victories when you are struggling during a race.

3. Visualisation: Create a short movie of you achieving your goal. Think of the things you have achieved during training. Think of yourself as strong and confident and replay these images in your head. Do this before you step out for each training session. And do this on race day. 

4. You are good enough. If you don’t believe this you won’t reach your potential. Muhammad Ali said he called himself the greatest before he actually was. Celebrate every victory and see every challenge as a period of growth. 

5. What do you see: See yourself as an athlete. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you are doing everything that you can to do to complete your race goal, you are taking it seriously. Imagine if in your current job you have to deliver a presentation for a client, would you present your self as a professional or present yourself as a pretend version of your job role? Don’t do the disservice as seeing yourself as a fraud for a race you’ve trained for. 

6. Race nerves: it’s perfectly normal to be in a heightened state before a race. Repeat positive affirmations and do some breathing exercises before the race to calm your nerves. Draw strength from the reason why you running the race. The why behind a goal cannot be underestimated.

7. Dissociation: In a previous blog I’ve discussed why I don’t listen to music while running. For me it was a form of dissociation from the pain and escaping the moment. You can’t escape the good or the bad feelings, but try and treat them both like a guest you have invited over to dinner, but remember always to focus on the reason why you trained so hard, when times get hard.

8. Race focus: There will be moments that your mind will wonder especially in a marathon, continue to repeat positive mantras which focus on maintaining a strong and relaxed form. Or consider the counting technique which Paula Radcliffe used, where it roughly took her three times to count to 100, by which time she covered a mile. This helped her anchor her concentration within each mile and stay in the moment. 

9. Avoiding the unavoidable: Running a race to avoid pain is impossible. Some of my most painful experiences during training have come from speed work, it always hurts and isn’t enjoyable at the time, but once you cross the line of discomfort you start to see what you can achieve. It’s these experiences gained during training which develop your racing confidence.

10. Focus on the now: Don’t race and think I’ve done one mile and I have 25.2 miles to go… This negativity is hard to overcome especially when you start struggling and each step feels like a mile. Instead think of the mile your on and focus on how far you’ve come, rather than focus on what you haven’t done.

But regardless of the mental tactics you use it is only one part of the equation. You also need to do the physical preparation, plus have the correct diet etc.

Respect the distance, remember the marathon is a 10k with a twenty mile warm up. So arrive at the start line prepared.


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