Running a Marathon: Mind Over Matter

· January 6, 2019

Practicing a sport is both a physical and psychological discipline. Facing an opponent, running a marathon, or joining a sports team requires effort, training, and putting mind over matter.

Thus, in order to achieve your goals, whether they’re professional or personal, it’s imperative to consider your state of mind. Concentrating and preparing your mind for a marathon is essential.

Psychological training

Marathons are the mother of all obstacles tests. When you train for one, you have to run for many miles and feel pain everywhere.

In fact, good marathon runners, those who truly train for them, say that the toughest part is precisely the training and not the marathon itself.

Thus, physical training has to always be accompanied by resilience training. What many people forget is how important it is to put mind over matter. There will be moments where the temptation to quit the race is overpowering, and this is when your willpower must kick in.

There are certain moments when the runner starts to ask questions like: “What am I doing here when I could be sitting down on my own couch reading a book?” These questions may make them seriously consider giving up.

A marathon is similar to your professional career.

Another important psychological factor, aside from confronting pain and exhaustion, is confronting anxiety, that feeling you get a few days before the race.

The challenge of running a marathon

Finally, it’s important to understand that you shouldn’t decide to participate in a marathon lightly. Marathons represent a long and difficult preparation process for both the body and the mind.

Doing this incredible challenge implies great effort. A person shouldn’t undertake a marathon if they don’t train for it and don’t run shorter races to practice.

In other words, it’s important to build a physical and mental resistance for 3 to 4 months before the race. This is because running a marathon requires incredible physical resistance as well as putting mind over matter.

According to psychologist Rocío Parrado, once in a marathon, the runner goes through different emotional states. The body has a physical limit and a mental one as well. Therefore, even after extensive training, this type of activity can’t be taken lightly. Understanding how to put mind over matter is quite important in marathons.

The 6 mental stages of a marathon

Tomás Vich Rodríguez ensures in his book, What Happens in the Mind of a Marathon Runner, that marathons have six stages:

  • Euphoria: This stage starts before the marathon and ends after the first meters. It includes pre-race jitters. It’s a mix of happy thoughts and doubt.
  • Chatty: Happens approximately between meters 6 and 15. Most runners start to chat with the other runners around them. There is a tendency to quicken the pace, fueled by the public’s cheers, which can lead to premature exhaustion.
  • Transition: Happens between meters 16 to 23. This is a psychologically neutral stage. Most runners act as they should, focused on their own pace and speed.
  • Dormant: Starts between meters 24 and 31. This is where the marathon really begins. Physical and mental suffering starts. Anxiety begins to settle in and all the runner wants to do is finish the race. Their desire to run whines down.
  • Suffering: Starts between meters 32 to 42. This is where the famous runner’s wall appears. It’s one of the most difficult parts of a marathon. Specialists state it’s the moment where the runner starts to use fat as their muscles’ main energy source.
  • The bliss of finishing the race: This stage represents the last few meters. It’s when the runner is finally certain they’ll finish the marathon and is close to the finish line.

Putting mind over matter during each stage

If the runner controls their emotions during the marathon, they may successfully complete it.

  • Euphoria: Fatigue comes after the first adrenaline discharge. Thus, marathoners should remember to apply strategies to make sure they space out this adrenaline to be able to cross the finish line.
  • Chatty: We must identify those situations that speed up our pace. For example, the public cheering. We shouldn’t let emotions take over.
  • Transition: We feel comfortable during this stage. The important thing to do here is to keep calm and maintain a good pace.
  • Dormant: This is one of the worse stages of a marathon. Negative thoughts arise and we must try to turn them into positive ones. It’s helpful to think things like “I was expecting to feel this way”, “It’s just another stage of the race”, or “This feeling will pass”.
  • Suffering: The goal is to avoid thinking of the finish line because it’s so far away it may seem unreachable. Thus, we must only think of the next meter.
  • The bliss of finishing the race: This spikes adrenaline, makes us feel just as happy as we did at the beginning of the marathon, and lets us forget about the exhaustion for a little bit.
You must train for all stages of the marathon

Anticipating the consequences

Training the mind is necessary to make sure your emotions don’t affect you negatively during a marathon. This psychological training before the race is based on anticipation.

During their training, despite not running the total distance of the actual marathon, the runner should practice enough. One way of doing this is with accumulative training.

This can help the runner estimate the pace needed during the race. This is precisely the anchoring pace that the runner follows during the first meters and will help them avoid exhaustion during the last ones.

Finally, it’s important to emphasize the need for a good internal dialogue. Many athletes reinforce their failures with self-destructive phrases like “This isn’t for you”. You should avoid these phrases if you want to stay focused in the race.