After logging all the miles prescribed on your training plan, your legs will probably be ready to run the marathon. But your mind is a whole different muscle. Most people overlook the mental preparation that can make life during training (and those 26.2 miles) much easier. Last year, a study at Staffordshire University in the U.K. looked at 706 ultramarathoners and found that mental toughness accounts for 14 percent of racing success—a fairly large chunk when your race takes multiple hours to complete. Bulk up your mental reserve now so you can tap into it on race day and make it to the finish line with this advice from sports psychologists who’ve worked with Olympic runners and marathon newbies.
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Run for the Right Reasons
The biggest mental mistake you can make as an athlete is to tie what you’re doing to your self-worth. Measuring success by whether you hit a certain time or place well in your age group piles on negative pressure from the start. When you begin training, instead of a results-based goal, set a more self-fulfilling one, like challenging yourself or trying to improve fitness. Later, on days when you’re struggling, push yourself by remembering the reason you’re running.
Running for a cause? That’s great; just consider this: “Many of the runners I work with run ‘in honor’ of someone, and they become terrified of not crossing the finish line and letting down that person in their life,” says Jeff Brown, Ph.D., a Boston Marathon psychologist, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard University, and author of The Winnerclinical. “People need to remember that they’re recognizing and honoring that person the moment they step up to the start line.”