With any marathon or long-distance run, not only is physical preparation important, but it is also crucial to prepare mentally for the gruelling number of miles. Because running a marathon is not just about the body — the mind also matters quite a bit as well.
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.
First off, 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 if you’re brave enough to run a 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 these situations should they arise on race day.
In a study, 315 participants from three eastern seaboard marathons in the US were asked about their experiences of hitting the wall. The findings revealed that 43 per cent of participants ‘hit the wall’ during the marathon, with results showing that fatigue, unintentional slowing of pace, a desire to walk, and a shift in focus to survival were all key features of the wall. In another study, fifty-seven experienced recreational marathoners were asked about how they coped with hitting the wall. The participants used multiple techniques including physical coping strategies such as supplementation; emotional strategies like social support; and cognitive strategies like mental reframing.