Physical Preparation for a Marathon? What about Mental Preparation?

Written by: Eva Kovač, Univ. graduate of Psychology

In endurance sports one often hears that the human psyche is the one guiding to the goal. The same applies for a marathon. Most runners, who had already ran a marathon, would agree with this thesis. Important roles, in addition to the physical preparation, also play mental hardiness and mental preparation, which help the runner to his goal.     

And the question ‘How do runners prepare for a marathon?' guides us to an interesting fact. You are certainly preparing physically. But how many of you are preparing mentally?    

The fact is mental fatigue occurs much faster than physical, an indication that mental preparation is not good enough or the motivation itself is not high enough. When preparing for a marathon or any other run, it is important to also pay attention to the mental training and goal-setting process not only on the physical preparation. Hard work, training and mental preparation, are the three factors leading the runner to the final goal, across the finish line.  

You can read a lot about training processes but only a few know how mental preparation should look like for a marathon. 

There are several psychological techniques for training one's mental strength, useful in key moments during the marathon. Mental preparation and mental hardiness have to be trained as well as physical. It makes sense to incorporate it in the training process itself.

Mental preparation goals are developing, training and optimizing those mental features contributing to the runner's success on the marathon or will help him to overcome obstacles during the ordeal itself. In the mental preparation process we strive for the runner to control his inner states, uneasiness and tiredness, boredom and remove his feeling of pain occurring during a longer running experience with specific psychological techniques. In addition, the psychological techniques help runners to eliminate fear of failure, high anxiety before the competition, increase their confidence and try to control negative thoughts.

Mental Preparation for the Marathon Could be Divided into Three Aspects:

1. Controlling Tension's Physical States

It is crucial for the runner to know how to rest and relax during the training process itself. A lot of people are additionally exhausting their body with different sports meanwhile forgetting how important so-called passive rest is. The runner can help himself with different psychological relaxation techniques such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, hypnosis or some other Eastern relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques are usually the basis for the continuation of mental training.   

2. Controlling Thoughts and Learning the Dissociation Technique

Second very important field in marathon preparation is learning to control negative thoughts. We know we are more perceptive to influences of negative thoughts when under stress and the marathon ordeal itself represents a certain stress for the individual. Especially during a marathon. At that time the runner is highly prone to negative thoughts, therefore it is better if he learns to control his thoughts, stops the negative line of thoughts and transforms these thoughts into positive before that. An effective technique, that comes in handy to every runner, is a pain elimination technique called the ‘Dissociation Technique' where the runner in critical moments redirects the focus and breaks off the return information about the pain and tiredness. So he confronts with it easier, because it's not as intense as it would be, if he was focusing on it.   

3. Mental Preparation for a Marathon

Mental preparation for a marathon takes place with the runner trying to visualize himself during the key marathon moments before the beginning, on the start line, in the middle, at the last mile or in the critical moments by using visualization. Mental imagining activates the same brain centers and induces similar stimuli as real activities. The only difference is that brain waves are less intense when imagining. Through visualization the runner provokes the situation and at the beginning elaborates on it, processes it and resolves it on the mental level. With this technique the runner can later on manage the situation easier.

The runner should be able to use all gained knowledge and abilities through mental training during the ordeal or on trainings. If he will be physically and mentally well prepared, the running ordeal will definitely be easier and more pleasant.