Getting Mentally Prepared for a Marathon

Memorise - Memory Power

Being an athlete requires mental fitness as well as physical fitness. When training for a marathon, one of the most grueling races you could ever attempt, you will need to get your mind prepared to handle the challenges ahead.

I think it is easy to see how training for the USA Memory Championship or the World Memory Championship requires a lot of mental prep so do other sports. One of the best books I read as I trained for my first USA Memory Championship title in 2009 was

So much of any sport whether it be baseball, football, the Olympics or even being a US Navy SEAL is all about the mental game.

When preparing for the 26.2-mile event you need to get your head together, and understand that when your body tells you it’s tired your brain has to convince it that it’s not. How can it do that?

You know that you can’t just decide the day before that you are going to run a marathon. It takes months of preparation. Starting off with short runs and gradually working up to long runs. You are bound to encounter some “bad patches” in the later miles of the race. You have to develop the mental toughness and coping skills that will add to your confidence and help you avoid running into that dreaded “wall,” especially when you get to that 20-mile marker. The point here is, if you are mentally prepared you can overcome these obstacles — and each part of the race presents new challenges. Whether you are training for the USA Memory Championship, World Memory Championship, marathon or to become a US Navy SEAL

1.           Most important – believe you can do it! Starting out with the proper mindset is essential.

2.           Make sure you have done all the important pre-race preparation — getting extra sleep (sleep impacts brain and memory), drinking more fluids, loading up on carbs, forgetting other distractions (like what you forgot to do at work).

3.           Get “race head.” That’s the period of time in the weeks building up to the race where the runner gets mentally prepared for the challenge.

4.           Realize that the excitement of race day — when your brain is at it sharpest and your adrenalin is pumping (especially the first miles when time seems to fly by), will not hold you up for the entire 26.2 miles. You will have to draw from some other resources when that adrenalin rush is over.

5.           Run the first half of the race slower than the second half – start out slow. This is called the “negative split” and is the key to running a smart and fun marathon. Your body will thank you during the second half.

6.           Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Don’t let other people passing you make you want to increase your pace. Run your own race, at your own pace. They may tire too quickly and you will eventually pass them up.

7.           Keep your emotions in check. You have the energy during the first 10 miles to high-5 family and friends that you pass, but reserve that energy — you’re going to need it later.

8.           When you have completed mile 10 start to think of the race in smaller segments. Tell yourself you’re half way to 20 miles, and then it’s just 6 to go, or at mile 17 say, “One six mile race and then it’s just 5K to go.” Don’t think of it as 16.2 miles more to go. Keep your mind on smaller distances that seem easy to manage.

9.           Keep positive. The longer you go the more you will start to doubt you will be able to finish. The pain is starting to set in as your body is depleting its resources. You have trained for this and are prepared. Keep tough! Keep your mind occupied with diversions: sing songs, recite the words of a play, and use “boredom-battling tricks.” Keeping your mind occupied will take it away from the pain your body is feeling, and make the time go faster.

10.   When you have passed the “20 mile wall” take your mind away from your body and turn your focus to outside the race. Look at the spectators and the signs they are carrying; discover the scenery as you pass.

11.   Use imagery — visualize yourself gracefully crossing that finish line and the finish line tape wrapping around you as you pass. Think about the after-race party and the celebration. Play “road games” like you did as a kid in a car — How many people do you see with red shirts? How many can you count are wearing blue hats? Make games for yourself to keep your mind occupied.

12.   Continue to take the course in small bits — mile by mile. You are going to need to dig deep into your mind for strength, but you are almost there. You can do it, and you brain is helping you along. Talk to yourself; tell yourself you are proud of what you have accomplished and how good you will feel about yourself when you cross that finish line.

You have now come to the end of the race, and you have passed all the mental tests you needed with flying colors!   Now let’s party!

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion , memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker. Getting prepared to run any race, whether it’s short or long, requires your mind in the right state. You can accomplish anything if you believe you can.

 Memory Training


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