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Marathon Psychology

Mental strategies for an enjoyable and successful marathon.

So here we are again when marathon fever grips the running world with notable mass participation events in the next few months, especially Brighton and London. The excitement is mounting, but also the nerves: In the last few weeks the common worry is: have I done enough training? Will I run as fast as I want to? Will I even get to the finish line?

What strategies can we put in place on the day to best result in a succesful outcome and an enjoyable experience. This article is based on an excellent workshop I attended recently given by Applied Sports Psychologist at St. Mary's University Colledge, Tim Holder.

The workshop, entitled Psychology for Marathon Coaches, concentrated on what to do when things don't go quite to plan. The first thing to note is running a marathon is a hard challenge and to complete one is in itself an achievement or where would be the satisfaction? Most of us have some sort of goal in mind, it may be 'running all the way' or 'to finish in the top half of field' or often time related like 'Sub 4 hours'.

We all have a goal


So we all have a goal, but what if things don't go to plan during the race? Of vital importance is to have a fall back position. Thus its a good idea to set 3 goal levels: should/ could/ just might. Your just might would be say Sub 4 hours or running all the way, achievable if all goes perfectly on the day. Could might be Sub 4:15 or have a 1 minute walk break at 20 miles and each mile thereafter. Should may be 4:30 or walk breaks after 13 miles for example.

I can't overstress the importance of having fall back positions 

I can't overstress the importance of having fall back positions as I can personally attest throughout my running career. For example last year I started the Brighton Marathon with sub 3 target but no fall back, got to half way in 1:29:30 got depressed and dropped out at 15 miles. In hindsight I never felt good so should have accepted it wasn't my day and fallen back to a slower target but crucially didn't have one!

Also the wall is a big fear for anyone running 26 miles as your glycogen stores run out around 20 miles and fatigue hits you in a big way. What are the best ways pschologically to cope with this? Studies of non-elite runners have shown, if you try daydreaming, working out mind puzzles etc. most people still hit the wall. If you internalise, focus on the pain, fatigue, nausea you'll hit the wall even earlier....not good! However the best strategy was external distraction: so looking at scenery, interacting with specators, and chatting are all good ways of delaying the onset of the dreaded wall.


We at Good Run Guide wish all our members well and hope they achieve their goals in the upcoming races and as always look forward to hearing some marathon stories in the forum. Have a great run.

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