Running a marathon – 42.195 kilometers – setting one foot in front of the other. This might seem impossible for some, but with the right approach and perseverance everyone can get there. Training the body is a big part of it: the sheer number of hours and kilometers running, which are often invisible for the supporters watching a marathon is incredible and should be acknowledged more often. Yet, the sport of long-distance running is a sport that does not only entail physical training efforts, but also self-control, organizational skills, and a strong mind.
The aspect of controlling one’s emotions, desires and your mind in sometimes difficult situations is omnipresent when being a marathon runner. The first thing that probably pops into your head is during the race itself – and more to that later. For now, imagine the setting of being student at a demanding European university and coming home from a long and exhausting day on campus. As a runner there will always be the inner desire to run and for me especially, it is important for my mental health to be active. Yet, there are days where I long for things that are counterproductive for my training: skipping a run, unhealthy food, an evening on the couch, or having a beer with friends. This is exactly when your self-control needs to kick in. As it is a restrictive force, you need to make sure that after the successful run you bathe in the endorphins and celebrate your achievement in order to finish your day on a positive note. Non-athletes (most of my friends) oftentimes do not understand when I cannot drink, go out that night, or need to go to bed early, because of a long run the next day. This can be challenging, as they bring forth some good arguments and your inner ‘social and human part’ wants to follow their lead. Here again, self-control is needed to abandon these thoughts and for pursuing your own long-term goals. For keeping your friends close, next time you have a competition, track meeting, or marathon take your friends with you, so that they can see what you do it for and introduce them to your world of an athletic mind.
Running 80 kilometers per week during my marathon preparation requires a decent amount of planning skills. The creation of a weekly training schedule can be difficult and tiresome. It is advisable to adapt some sort of routine, so that your body can get used to the training schedule. As a student, this can be extremely challenging as every day has a different timetable (especially at European universities). In my opinion, this will become much easier when I start my working life this summer. Having a fixed daily agenda, limits your freedom of choosing your daily run, which forces you into a daily running routine.
So far, we have only covered the point in time when to run and the difficulties that might arise. As a marathon runner, there are quite some different trainings that need to be consistently covered on a weekly basis, some of them being long slow distance (LSD) runs, interval (fartlek-style) runs, and recovery runs. Each of these can be leveraged best at different points during the week. The LSD run takes a considerable amount of time and for obvious reasons needs to be on the weekends – cramping a 2 ½ to 3-hour run into your morning before work is impossible. For me, the interval runs are the most enjoyable and entertaining trainings, as I go to my physical boundaries. As they are extremely tiresome, you need to figure out whether you gain mental energy for your working day or rather use it as a tool to blow off steam after a long working day. In my case, I usually place these in the evenings as I can let go off every feeling that I had during the day and use the time to reflect. The recovery runs are easy on your body and in my opinion do not really depend on the time of the day. To sum it up, organizational skills as a runner is important and the integration of your training into your everyday life depends on how strict your daily agenda is.
Strong mind – day of the marathon:
This part is in fact a bit of a combination of the two parts above. In this section, I will focus more on the mental strength and mindfulness during a race (marathon).
– Marathon – Race Day –
You have been running and training the past four months for this moment. You are standing at the starting line, anxiously awaiting the start of the marathon. I usually take that moment to soak in the emotions and excitement around me. … Five minutes before the start, it is important to focus on your own body, thinking about your long runs and reminding your muscles on what they will be going through. You have probably heard this a hundred times before, but the first half of the marathon is a piece of cake and the only thing to concentrate on is not to go too fast. Focus and a strong mind are vital from kilometer 30 onwards.
The muscles are sore and your entire body screams: “Please stop running!”. At this time of the race, it is important to remind yourself of all the hard work that you have put into your training. This gives you the extra push and enables you to overcome the pain. Also, being fully aware of your body, targeting the aching muscles and through controlled breathing techniques you can redirect the pain points and further expand your physical boundaries. I have by now finished five marathons in my life and so far, in each single one of them I have encountered at least one moment where I really wanted to stop. Therefore, it is vital to train your mind and teach yourself a variety of techniques that will help you to triumph over your fears, doubts, and the pain.
Running a marathon is clearly a physical effort, but the mental aspect of this sport is a large factor that can positively influence your finishing time. Start training your mind!