Sport, from a certain point on, requires a great psychological as well as physical effort. Confronting a rival, individually or as a team, requires mentalization, effort, preparation and training, regardless of discipline. Without these ingredients, personal success can become unattainable. Today we focus on the importance of this psychological element for running a marathon.
To reach a sporting, professional or personal goal, it is necessary to take care of the psychological dimension. Concentrating and “preparing your head” for a competition is essential. Especially if sport is seen as a challenge against oneself, the worst possible rival with all its limitations and fears. Mentalization plays a fundamental role and, for this, it is necessary to know it better.
Training, mental and psychological
The main sport of athletics is probably the marathon. In this sport, the psychological component plays a fundamental role. And it appears already in the preparation, when the days are marked by the kilometers traveled in the company of more or less severe pain.
Marathon runners who compete for victory keep repeating that the real challenge is training for the race. The 42 km of the marathon, of course, hide many pitfalls and take the abilities of each participant to the extreme.
Physical training is accompanied by resilience training. Moments when the temptation to leave is very great. Moments in which the runner wonders “What am I doing here, alone and suffering, when I could stay quietly at home reading a book…”. Or, in the case of professionals: “But wasn’t it better to choose another job?”
Another important psychological factor, in addition to the one that allows you to overcome pain and fatigue, concerns the overcoming of anxiety. That nervousness that appears in the days before the race and that pushes the athlete to follow the dietary routine and the very hard daily workouts with extreme decision.
The marathon runner knows that he will hardly improve his times in the last few days, but he can lose everything due to a small flu or a virus. Just when the departure date approaches and the volume of Km in training decrease, the fear that something could go wrong increases.
These extraordinary athletes know that the decision to run a marathon should always be made with a cool head. It must come to the end of a long process in which the mind and body have been adequately prepared. Getting ready for the race has a huge organic impact, even for professionals. It would be madness to decide to run a marathon without at least two years of preparation, carried out in terms of training, nutrition and competing on shorter lengths. It is necessary to build a solid foundation, physical and mental, before arriving at the final preparation, that is 3-4 months before the day of the race.
During the race, the marathoner goes through different emotional states. And it is precisely here that the body shows all its limits, physical and mental, being taken to the extreme. It is a discipline that cannot be taken lightly and that requires a high degree of mentalization.
Running a marathon and the 6 mental phases
When running a marathon, there are six different phases:
- Euphoria : occurs before the start of the race and during the first kilometers. It is characterized by pre-match nervousness. Joyful thoughts mingle with others that reflect some doubts. In any case, the body must arrive rested to the test and the mind ready to devour kilometers.
- Communication : emerges between the 6th and 15th kilometer approximately. Many runners are busy talking to colleagues. There is a tendency to accelerate the pace, driven by the mood of the public, which can cause premature exhaustion.
- Transition : from the 16th to the 23rd kilometer. It is a psychologically neutral stage. Most runners force their minds to stay focused on the pace of their stride.
- Latency : between 24th and 31st. This is where the marathon begins. The athlete begins to feel the weight of the race, the physical and mental suffering. The anxiety of wanting to finish the race arises. The desire to run begins to disappear and mentalization falters.
- Suffering : from 32nd to 42nd. The marathon runner approaches his dangerous limit, the biggest obstacle. Specialists call this the moment when the athlete, due to the depletion of glycogen reserves, begins to use fat as the main source of energy to nourish the muscles.
- Ecstasy at the end of his career : he shows up in the last meters. The athlete acquires the certainty that he will reach that goal that a few hundred meters before seemed very far away.
Stages of mentalization to run a marathon
If you can recognize and control the sensations that arise during the 6 phases of the race, you can run a good marathon.
- Euphoria : be aware that after the initial adrenaline rush, fatigue will come. With this in mind, you will apply the strategies in order to manage this feeling that could compromise the entire race.
- Communication: you will have to recognize the sensations that will lead you to increase the pace. For example, the support of the public. Act with your head and don’t let yourself be carried away by emotions. This is crucial to facilitate the mentalization process.
- Transition : you will feel comfortable. In this phase, the essential thing is not to relax and keep the rhythm.
- Latency : it is one of the worst moments of the race. Usually negative thoughts prevail, so you have to try to be optimistic: “I expected it to be like this”, “it’s just another phase of the race”, “calm down, it will pass”. At this stage, having run other marathons will give you an edge.
- Suffering : do not think about the goal, because it will seem very far away, and even unattainable. Bring the targets closer, moving them to the next kilometer. Your motivation is to subtract meters.
- Final ecstasy of the race : you will notice an adrenaline rush that, despite the tiredness, approaches the initial feeling of joy.
Anticipate the consequences
To manage these emotional events that occur during the race, causing pessimism and pushing you to quit, mentalization is necessary. This psychological training will have to start well in advance.
During the preparation, you will find yourself in mental situations similar to those of the actual marathon. This can happen thanks to the sum of training and high intensity series, generally very prolonged.
These series will also help you to estimate the pace to maintain during the competition. In this way, you will learn to recognize the right pace that you will need in order not to exceed in the first kilometers. Starting from 30 °, the acquired pace will help the compensation, making you go fast despite the fatigue.
Finally, you will have to give a lot of importance to inner dialogue. Many athletes fail by generating, fostering and feeding self-destructive messages: “It’s not worth it”, “All those hours of training and now I’m last”. These messages are the echo of the fatigue in our mind. If your body begins to feel pain, your mind will fuel the defeat thoughts as the miles go by.
Learning to use mentalization is the best way to face, and overcome, complex and very hard challenges like a marathon.