Whether you choose to run for health purposes, to make friends or just because it makes you feel good, the fact is that running is a good thing! With the many mental and physical benefits of running, the question should really be why NOT run? And especially if running is for a cause then all the more reason to be a part of it.
It’s always ‘Mind Over Matter’. Training your mind for a marathon might sound a bit odd, but preparing mentally is really no different to preparing physically. Just as you would prepare your body, it’s equally important to prepare your mind for the inevitable mental challenges. In fact, research suggests that elite marathoners use specific psychological strategies to help them perform for this unique event.
Let’s talk about the infamous wall, and what happens when you hit it. Because hitting the wall isn’t just a fallacy, it really does happen, and it’s probably going to happen to you at some point if you’re brave enough to be running the marathon. Hitting the wall is basically about running out of energy. Your legs feel like concrete, your breathing becomes laboured, your stride turns into a shuffle. Negative thoughts flood your mind, and the urge to quit becomes overwhelming.
Identifying imaginary – but realistic – scenarios before the race like “what happens when I hit the wall?” or “what if it rains?” are key to success on the actual day itself. To get the most out of this, runners should identify potential strategies to cope with if situations like these arise on the race day.
Slow down your pace – remember it’s a marathon and not just another 100 meter race. Walk, don’t run it’s not pushing yourself to the extreme where you collapse, it’s about surviving the long haul and a shift in focus to survival is the key to running the full marathon.
It’s all about mental reframing and telling yourself that the journey is almost over, create small targets, after you cross every self made targets there will be a sense of victory, use this victory to move further.
Another technique to help overcome the wall could be managing your self-talk. Self-talk refers to the “voice” in your head. It is an useful mental strategy to apply at long distance running, and many studies have shown the majority of competitive marathon runners use self-talk during marathons.
Runners report using a rich variety of motivational self-talk as well as spiritual self-talk and mantras. Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus can help direct your mind away from negative thoughts and towards a positive experience.
The Sanskrit word “mantra” literally means “instrument for thinking”. As such, short words or phrases can be used effectively to focus the mind. To best manage self-talk, before the race, runners are encouraged to prepare multiple mantras tailored to various challenges.
For example, to overcome inclines, you might use the words “Road is my friend”. Towards the end of the race, you might say to yourself “Think strong, be strong, finish strong”, or you might just be repeating “Keep running, don’t stop” over and over again – it really is a case of whatever works for you.
During a marathon, association and disassociation are also important cognitive strategies for maintaining focus. Association refers to the monitoring of the body and adjusting pace accordingly, while dissociation refers to using distraction to direct attention away from pain.
Research has found that the top finishers employed cognitive strategies that utilized both associative and dissociative techniques, while lower finishers only adopted dissociative strategies. So being at one with your physical state is really important if you’re trying to maintain your focus. These include monitoring foot strike and stride pattern, ensuring that arms are swinging forwards and backwards – rather than from side to side – maintaining awareness of hydration levels, observing breathing patterns, and counting in the head to determine where your are within each mile.
These strategies can help bring a meditative practice to your movement and get your rhythm, in turn creating a healthier way to run that’s more enjoyable, with better results for body, mind and soul. By running in sync with your breath, watching your stride, and counting in your head, you can enjoy the pure joy of mindful running.
As with anything else, though, there is an impact that we have and it never hurts to be aware of just what that impact is.