Marathon season is upon us and runners are training for the big day. Many runners follow training plans and join running groups but fewer runners devote time to mental toughness training. Dr. Michele Kerulis is Program Director of Sport & Health Psychology at Adler University in Chicago. She is a certified consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP), a member of the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry, and a content expert in sport & exercise psychology. Dr. Kerulis knows that mental strength is important to finishing a marathon. .
"There is no doubt that finishing a marathon requires physical fitness and mental strength." says Dr. Kerulis. The Mind Game of Marathon is the first of a series of articles, that will introduce runners to sport psychology skills intended to help them focus psychological energy on completing the race based on her teachings.
Runners can also connect with Psyching Teams across the country to learn “tips on how to be mentally prepared to run your best race”. The following 5 tips will help you train your brain and successfully play the mind game of the marathon.
1. Allocate time to MTT. (Mental Toughness Training). Athletes who utilize sport
psychology skills are more successful than athletes who don’t. Schedule time into your training plan to learn specific mental toughness skills that will help you move past difficulties you might encounter during training and on race day. Commit time during each training to practice sport psychology skills.
2. Maintain a Positive Mindset. Positive thoughts will work wonders on training runs, during the event, and can even help in non-marathon situations. If you notice a negative thought reframe it into a positive statement. For example, “This run is too difficult, there’s no way I can finish,” can be reframed to, “This is a difficult run and I will keep going – I can do this.” Positive statements can increase motivation and help you work successfully towards your goals.
3. Set SMART Goals. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. For example, one runner’s goal is, “to participate with a running group 3-4 times a week in order to increase motivation while training on my own one day a week.” Share your goals with others so you can gain support and accountability from fellow runners.
4. Plan a Strategy to Overcome Setbacks. Elite runners and beginners alike experience setbacks like temporary injuries, undesirable training conditions, and decreased energy. Realizing that setbacks are a normal part of training can help you create a plan of action to overcome the issue. For example, runners who experience temporary injuries often feel frustrated and anxious because they cannot run. Injured runners should listen to their bodies (and their doctors) and take a break from running. Use break time to practice your mental toughness training and provide support other runners.
5. Visualize Success. Many popular marathons have racecourse videos. Watch the videos and learn specific landmarks to help you become familiar with milestones and mile markers. Use all 5 senses and visualize yourself on the course. If you lose focus while running, recall the reason why you decided to run the marathon and recommit to your goal. Take a deep breath, see yourself cross the finish line, and keep moving forward!