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Sports Psychology - Be A Marathon Mentalist
Train your mind and improve your marathon performance!
“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical”. – Yogi Berra
What Yogi is saying, in his usual humorous way, is that the mental side of baseball is extremely important for success. Today, sports psychology is a key component of most training programs for elite athletes and pro-sports teams.
We can also use these same basic principles to help us train for, and run better in the marathon event. Motivation, focus, and visualization are some of the areas where the mental aspect is important to your marathon performance.
Focus and goal-setting
The ability to stay focused can mean the difference between a mediocre performance and a really great one. In marathon training you need to set goals (short and long term) and frequently remind yourself of those goals. For example:
It can be very hard to stay motivated through the complete 16 or more weeks of marathon training. Just getting yourself out of the door in bad weather to tackle a 10 mile training run can be a challenge in itself. Some things you can do to keep motivated are:
This powerful technique is used by many successful athletes. It involves mentally seeing a picture of yourself succeeding at key points in the event. In the marathon you could for example:
You will be surprised how this can help when these moments actually happen. In effect, you have trained you mind to experience the physical event.
Try This Visualization Experiment
Have you ever thrown a piece of crumpled paper at the trash bucket - and missed?
Here's a simple way to improve your accuracy. Instead of aiming directly at the trashcan, imagine an arc going from yourself to the center of the target. Now throw the paper to the top this imaginary arc – you will find that it goes right into the middle of the can.
That’s how powerful this can technique be.
Use Your Mind
When it comes to the marathon, we need to use or minds to run the best possible race we can on that specific day. There are many physical factors that can impact our performance. We need to recognize these and deal with them pro-actively.
Some of these factors are
So how do we apply our minds to the race?
First of all, we have to be disciplined! If you have a plan in mind – stick to it. Don’t get swept along with your friends or other groups who may be running a slightly faster than you. Even 10 seconds a mile can make a big difference to your energy reserves by mile 20. If anything, tell yourself to start off somewhat slower than your average pace. This is hard to do when you are feeling strong after 16 weeks or so of training for this day.
The same principle applies if the weather is bad – too hot, windy or the course is challenging. We have to tell ourselves right from the start - go slower! Our physical condition is another factor that will influence our performance. I can usually tell by mile seven or eight whether I am going to have a harder than normal marathon, and I adjust my pace accordingly.
How do some athletes push beyond their physical limits?
Now before we answer this question remember, - we are walking (running!) a fine line between success and injury. So how far you want to push yourself is up to you.
Use visualization to take your mind off the pain. Don’t listen to others. In my first marathon at NY I was running along chatting with a fellow runner. We were both slowing down so when he suggested walking I readily agreed. In retrospect though I could have carried on running for another mile or so. I do find though that talking with a fellow runner helps to distract your mind from focusing on your aches and pains.
Another simple technique that works really well is to consciously adjust your form. Straighten up, (how many marathon runners are slumped over, head down and shuffling along by mile 22?) lift your head up and look around at where you are. Take an interest in your surroundings. The pain will diminish!
Sports psychology is a complex topic but I hope this article had given you something to think about and apply for your next marathon. Check out this week's sponsor, MindMaster - these techniques may seem like hocus-pocus but they are used by many pro-athletes and actually do work!
Get the edge - become a 'Marathon Mentalist'.