Julia Jones: Training Your Brain (for Marathon Running)

The other day I went to have coffee with two runners that I’m training for the Venicemarathon. This will be their first marathon and you could already see the excitement in their eyes. They followed the training program through the sweltering Italian summer months and now have cooler temperatures for the last weeks of honing and preparation. They’re on target with their training and, thanks to the added help of a local nutritionist, in the best shape of their lives. And yet, they are worried about not making it to the finish line.

Not being able to finish a race is one of the biggest worries for anybody running a long distance for the first time. That’s why you need to train your brain along with your body.

-    Concentrate on what you can control and let go of what you cannot. I heard this while listening to a sports psychologist on a podcast and it’s really helped to keep pre race jitters under control. You can control how well you organise your schedule, your eating plan, getting your workouts done and getting to bed early. You can’t control the weather on race day but you can dress properly for it. I can already hear you sighing with relief.

-    Learn to empty your mind. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but somewhere around mile 20 the race might get hard. If you have a lot of chatter and self talk going around in your brain this is the moment when you’ll need to calm it all down. You can practice emptying your mind or what they call Moving Meditation in training. While you’re running concentrate on one of the following:  your breathing pattern, the sound of your feet hitting the pavement, the chatter of others around you. Before you know it you’ll have completed another mile and be that much closer to the finish line.

-    Get yourself a mantra (and repeat it often). I love mantras and come up with new ones for every important event. Try self talk (“You can do this!”), instructional (“right, left, right, left…”) or classic (“Just keep running”). Make up your own and print it out so you have it memorised before race day.

- Remember that the marathon is a learning experience and not a test. Most runners get nervous and become wrecks before a race because they are afraid that the outcome will define them. It doesn’t and it won’t. Think of it as a learning experience. A moment to spend time with yourself on the race course. Besides, you’re running a freakin’ marathon and how awesome is that?! 
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