Facing A Marathon, An Awareness Challenge

Sport, after a certain level of dedication and skill, becomes a highly psychological discipline, as well as a physical one. Facing a rival or joining a group as part of a team, in any modality, requires awareness, effort, preparation and training. Without these ingredients, personal success can become unattainable.

Therefore, to achieve goals, whether at a professional level or to beat one’s own records, it is necessary to take care of the mental aspect. Concentrating and “preparing your head” for the race is essential, especially if the sport is faced as a challenge in which our greatest rival is us, with our fears and expectations.

Training, mental and psychological

Within athletics, because it is the mother test, perhaps the marathon -or the marathon- is one of the tests in which the psychological has a greater weight. He already has it in the preparation, where the days are filled with kilometers and the legs of small or great pains that are crawling from one ankle to the other. In fact, good marathoners, those who do a planned preparation for the event, often say that the really hard thing is to prepare it, which does not mean that within those 42 km there are bad moments.

Thus, the physical training itself is accompanied by resilience training. Moments in which the temptation to leave is very great. Moments in which “what am I doing here, alone and suffering, when I could be quietly at home reading a book or, in the case of professionals, having decided on another job?”

Another important psychological factor, in addition to overcoming pain and fatigue, is dealing with anxiety. That nerve that appears the days before the test and that contains the pressure to respond on the day indicated to the training carried out. The marathoner knows that during those last days he will win little – what he had to win he has already won by training during the previous months – but he can lose a lot with a little flu or a virus. Hence, in these last days, in which the volume of Km in training decreases, the sensitivity to any type of strange sensation increases.

Finally, before getting fully into the psychology within the test, point out that running a marathon should always be a decision away from impulse. It must be the end of a long, deep process, in which both the body and the mind gradually adapt to greater workloads. Running this test has a huge impact on an organic level, even for the most prepared athletes, hence it is crazy to run it without taking at least two years assimilating shorter training and competitions. That is, building an important physical and mental phase, before making a specific preparation for the test (3-4 months).

Within the competition itself, the psychologist Rocío Parrado stresses that the marathon runner goes through different emotional states. We already see that the body has a physical and metal limit. So even if you train, a sport as tough as this cannot be taken lightly. Mentalizing yourself about this requirement is essential.

The 6 mental phases of the marathon

Tomás Vich Rodríguez, in his book “What goes through the head of the marathon runner”, assures that during the test six different stages or phases are presented:

  • Euphoria : takes place before starting and during the first kilometers. It is characterized by pre-race nerves. Thoughts of joy are mixed with others that reflect the first doubts. In any case, the body must come to the test rested and the mind eager to devour kilometers.
  • Talk : it happens between kilometers 6 to 15, approximately. Most of the runners talk with their colleagues. There is a tendency to accelerate the pace, pushed by the spirits of the public, which causes premature exhaustion.
  • Transition : from 16 to 23 km. It is a psychologically neutral stage. Most runners act like “must”, focused and focused on their own pace.
  • Latent : between the 24th and the 31st. It really is when the marathon begins. You begin to feel the weight of the race, the physical and mental suffering. The anguish begins and the only thing that is wanted is to finish. The urge to run begins to disappear and the mentalization falters.
  • Suffering : from 32 to 42. You can reach the “wall”, one of the most fearsome obstacles in the race. This is what specialists call the moment in which the athlete, due to the depletion of glycogen stores, begins to use  fat  as the main source of energy to feed the muscles.
  • Final ecstasy of the race : last meters. It occurs when the athlete acquires the certainty that he will reach that goal that a few hundred meters before seemed so far away.

Phase mentalization

If you get to know and control the sensations you experience during the marathon, you will be able to have a good race.

  • Euphoria : be aware that after the initial adrenaline rush, exhaustion comes. Having it clear, strategies will be applied so that the joy of the first km prevents reaching the final post.
  • Talk : those sensations that make us increase the pace have to be detected. For example, public support. Acting with a head and not getting carried away by emotions is crucial for this mentalization process.
  • Transition : we feel comfortable in it. In this phase, the essential thing is not to relax and keep pace.
  • Latent : it is one of the worst. Negative thoughts tend to prevail, that is why we have to try to bring out the positive ones: “I already expected this to be the case”, “it is another phase of the race”, “calm down, it will pass”. In this phase, previous experience is a degree.
  • Suffering : the goal is not to think about the goal, because it looks very far away, and even unattainable. Therefore, we will put our objectives in the next kilometer. Our motivation is to subtract meters.
  • Final ecstasy of the race : there is a rush of adrenaline that can return us, a little and despite the fatigue, to that initial feeling of joy.

Anticipate the consequences

So that these emotional events that occur during the race do not dominate and end it, producing a bad mark or even abandonment, mentalization is necessary. This prior psychological training must be based on anticipation. “

Hence, in preparation, despite never running the competition distance, the athlete does place himself by accumulation of training in mental situations similar in suffering to those of the marathon itself. This is achieved with the accumulation of training or very high and sustained intensity points (series).

These series will also help us, together with the longer training sessions, to make an estimate of the pace that we have to carry during the race. This is precisely the rhythm that serves as an anchor for the athlete so as not to go too fast in the first kilometers. After kilometer 30 this pace tends to do the opposite: go fast despite fatigue.

Finally, highlight the importance of internal dialogue. Many athletes promote their failure by generating, attending and feeding self-destructive messages: “You are not worth this.” “Training for so long and now you make a fool of yourself.” These types of messages are nothing more than the echo of fatigue in our mind. If our body begins to be in pain, defeatist thoughts can also increase in our mind as the kilometers go by.

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