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April 10, 2014

Jim Silva: Mental preparation critical to marathon success

The tricky part about running a marathon is that the challenge is mental as much as it is physical.

One thing I’ve found over the past few years is that there is plenty of information about preparing your body to run a half-marathon or marathon.

There are daily training plans that include scheduled runs, such as distance, pace, amount of effort and more.

The tricky part about running a marathon is that the challenge is mental as much as it is physical. Preparing your mind for the challenge is as big, if not bigger, than the physical preparation.

There’s less information out there about training your mind for a marathon. Many are so focused on the physical training, they forget about the mental aspect.

The trouble with training for a marathon is that it’s almost impossible to replicate the physical and mental toll you will face. With two under my belt, I have a good idea what to expect.

So as I head into my third marathon on June 1, I have some ideas how I can be better mentally prepared this time around. Here’s how:

• I have a plan for every run: How I’m going to approach it, what my pace will be and what I’m looking to get out of it, both physically and mentally. Many times I have gone into a distance event thinking “I’ll just see how I feel” and run accordingly. I’ve learned that in the marathon that’s not enough – you have to have a plan. This time I want to have a much clearer idea of how I plan to run the marathon, with the proper pacing and the right mindset for every portion of the race.
• I’m working on a better way to approach “the wall.” Usually I try to push through it – running harder to make up for how tired I am. But I’ve read that that can tighten your muscles and, in turn, make things worse, which could be why I cramped up so badly during last year’s marathon. This time I’m working on relaxing more during the difficult periods on my training runs. I shake out my arms, focus on the word “relax” and focus on shortening my stride to conserve energy.
• I’m running happy. There was a time where I thought running angry was the way to improve my time and get all of my stress out. I’ve learned that that doesn’t work in a marathon. I’m smiling more as I run, trying to convince my body that I’m happy and not feeling pain. I’ve come up with some mantras like “I feel good” or “I’ve got this” to help trick my body that it’s feeling better than it really is. You’ve heard the term “mind over matter” … taking a positive attitude into my long runs has helped with that. And I know that I’ll get more support from the crowd if I’m smiling and happy. That could be the boost I need to finish strong.
• Visualization. Like a golfer envisioning the putt falling in the hole, I’m visualizing myself finishing those final few miles of the marathon looking and feeling good. I also visualize the post-race celebration, what I’ll eat or drink, and how much fun I’ll be having celebrating my accomplishment. Instead of focusing on how much I’ll hurt at the finish, I visualize how happy I’ll be at the finish.

These concepts, of course, can be used no matter your fitness plan or goals. Have a plan, be happy, visualize success. This can be used whether you’re running a marathon, 5K or are doing cross-fit or aerobics.

Being physically and mentally fit come hand in hand. Keep working toward your goal and you will get there.

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