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How to Run a Mental Marathon

By Jane Hurst

Running isn’t just all about your body. It is as much mental as it is physical, and you need to be able to prepare yourself for the mental marathon. That little voice inside your head can do a lot to encourage or dissuade you from running that marathon, and it is going to determine your state of mind on the day of the race.

If you start to think negatively, you are not going to succeed, plain and simple. The first thing you need to do is get your language right. Instead of telling yourself that you hope you won’t hit the wall, go too fast or slowly, etc., tell yourself that you want to be confident, that you want to have fun, and other positive things.

Here are a few more ways that you can train yourself to run the mental marathon...

  1. Learn how to Visualize
    Not only is it important to learn how to visualize, you need to be able to visualize the right things. For instance, visualize the little things that will help you to get to the finish line, rather than visualizing actually getting to the finish line. The more you mentally rehearse the entire process, the more your brain is going to feel like it is actually experiencing what you are visualizing. Your brain will be primed for the real thing.
  2. Think about the Bad Parts
    Not everything about running is going to be positive, and you have to visualize the bad as well as the good, in order to prepare your mind for it. Imagine yourself having a great run, and then facing a challenge, such as tripping. Imagine ways that you can overcome the negative, such as another runner helping you up, crowds cheering you on, etc. Practice overcoming those moments so you won’t be overwhelmed when they happen.
  3. Set Your Routine
    According to experts from Sports And Pain Institute it is a good idea to create a routine that is going to help to get you into the right mind space on race day. Look for the things that help you to calm down and relax. For instance, you may have a certain mantra you like to say, or walk to a certain point before you start running. Do these things regularly, so that they are going to be repeated on race day without your even having to think about them.
  4. Set Little Goals
    This is one of the most important things you can do when you are doing any long-distance running. Don’t set the finish line as your goal. That is too far away, and it can be quite overwhelming. Instead, set smaller goals, such as getting to the next stop sign, running a half mile or a mile, etc. This is going to help you to get into the zone, and stay there throughout the marathon, and you will make it to the end.
  5. Look Around You
    Don’t fall into the trap that too many runners get into by looking down all the time. Look up, and all around. When you are looking down, you may end up internalizing too much, talking to yourself, letting negative thoughts enter your mind, feel pain more intensely, etc. When you are using your peripheral vision, you will be a lot less stressed, and believe it or not, you won’t notice pain nearly as much as you would if you were looking down all the time.
  6. Smile
    Many people don’t realize this, but when you are smiling, your body and mind are more energized. If you are not smiling while you are running, your performance level is going to drop drastically. Unfortunately, this often happens on race day, while training for the race was positive. You need to keep that positive mindset on race day as well, and keep on smiling. The less seriously you take things, the more fun you are going to have.
  7. The Race is Not the End Goal
    Your race is not the end goal, even though this is what you have been training for all along. You also need to think about the things that are going to happen after the race is over. Otherwise, you will have no other goals to shoot for. In addition to setting goals for the race itself, set other goals for after the race, so you still have something great to look forward to.
  8. Focus on Your Achievements
    No matter how hard you train and how much you prepare for everything that could happen on race day, if you end up becoming injured or having to pull out for any reason, don’t focus on the negative. Instead, focus on what you have been able to achieve instead. If you were able to run 23 miles, that is a great accomplishment, even though you were not able to complete the race. It’s all about staying positive.

Jane Hurst is a writer, editor and avid traveler from San Francisco. Contact her at

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