Training Beyond the Body: Finding Your Mental Edge
Tired, sore, feeling like marathon training is taking over your life… yes, folks, we are reaching the peak weeks of fall marathon training. With big stops on the racing calendar in Berlin, Chicago, Toronto and NYC just weeks away, I tried to reflect on what has gotten me through the toughest weeks of training in the past. That’s right, we’re talking about finding your mental edge.
Over the past few weeks and months, we’ve shared our thoughts on recovery and nutrition, two key components no matter where you are your training. But when you’re deep in the trenches of marathon training, because yes, it can feel like that, I’m turning to my mental process and approach at this time of year — what I am doing to motivate myself to get out the door, to stay focused, and to enjoy the process. The one thing I keep coming back to is visualization, specifically race day. Whether I’m grinding through a tough patch in a long run or plodding along on an easy recovery run, I often find my mind wandering back to race day.
"If you don't rule your mind, your mind will rule you." pic.twitter.com/biozS8nMvT
— Eliud Kipchoge – EGH???????? (@EliudKipchoge) December 3, 2017
Running has become so much more than training your body, with so many in the running community talking about how they gain a mental edge. Heck, the world marathon record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, countlessly refers to his mental game and approach when asked about his success, yet he rarely talks about the actual running.
“When your mind sees you accomplish a task, it begins creating the neural pathways to have it come to fruition. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy at its finest. The more you visualise, and the more senses you add to the experience, the more convinced your subconscious will be that you can accomplish a difficult task.”
— Deena Kastor
So, how exactly do I practice visualization?
Start by setting aside a few minutes in your day to visualize both race situations, and carry these scenarios into your training sessions. Whether you’re pushing up the hills in Vancouver or battling the heat and humidity of the East Coast, all of these scenarios playing out in training offer the perfect opportunity to flex your mental strength to successfully run through anything on race day.
Be realistic — There is no guarantee as to how you are going to feel on race day. Visualize yourself both pushing through the suffering and having a great day. What do you need to tell yourself to get out of that deep, dark hole? Or better yet, what will help you find that extra gear if you’re having a good day?
Visualize the course — look over course maps, and create routes in training that mimic the terrain you will experience on race day. Overcoming these obstacles in practice will help prevent any panic on race day and allow you to focus on other more important variables.
Relax — When sitting down to visualize, give yourself the best shot of making them realistic by creating the space you need to get in the zone. Whether that’s sitting in a quiet room, or heading out for a recovery run, do what you need to get into a calm space (breath deeply, calm your mind, think positively).
“Learning to take control of your thoughts begins with paying attention. Then, ask yourself if your mindset is serving you in the best way possible and begin playing with your words and tone.” — Deena Kastor
We’ve sprinkled in some quotes from one of running’s greatest, Deena Kastor. If you’re looking for a read to get you in the zone come race day, her book Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory is a great place to start.
Some other books we love are Grit by Angela Duckworth and The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremo. While these are resources we love, what works for you is going to be very personal. We highly encourage you to take some time to explore what’s out there for yourself and develop your own practice for finding your mental edge.