So many runners are hampered by race-day nerves, getting in the way of confidence and performance. Or they struggle with maintaining motivation. Here, I outline 6 secrets to beating marathon stress, so you can improve your performance and become a better, faster runner.
Notice what you are telling yourself when you are running. If you are filling your head with negative thoughts, this will transfer to your running. Instead, try telling yourself what you would like to happen, how you would like to be, think, feel and behave. For example, if you lack the motivation to train, imagine yourself excitedly lacing up your shoes on a sunny day. Practice reframing your negative thoughts to a more positive direction. For example, turn “I don’t want to run today” into “I will feel successful after I complete today’s run”. Develop a habit of seeing opportunities instead of problems.
Practice using positive affirmations. Take time to create some positive lines that will motivate and inspire you to keep on running, and that you can believe in. Keep it simple, for example, “one mile at a time” or “I can do it”. Write them on sticky notes and display them around your house, get a reminder to flash up on your phone, or practice repeating them in your head.
Harness the power of your imagination by visualising your desired outcome: picture yourself fitter, faster and leaner. Or imagine yourself on marathon day, successfully crossing the finish line. Put in as much detail as you can, sights, sounds, smells etc. You could even create a short video in your head featuring you getting up on marathon morning, eating breakfast, crossing the start line, pacing your run, fuelling as you had planned and crossing the finish line with a smile. Replay the video in your head each day to help build positivity and self-belief.
Understand Your “Why”
When the going gets tough, it can be helpful to remind yourself why you set yourself this challenge. Having a clear narrative explaining your decision to run is a great resource to call on when you might be struggling. Write it, draw it or record yourself talking about it, and try to include the emotions, logical thoughts and previous experiences that lead you there.
‘Tier’ Your Goals
We set goals in order to give our training meaning and direction. But having only one goal can set you up for disappointment. High-level coaches and sports psychologists encourage their athletes to set tiers of goals, or levels of success. First set your optimal goal, then break this down into 2 – 3 manageable back-ups that you will still consider a win. Because “success” is not a binary phenomenon; it’s a spectrum.
Focus on the Joy
Remember – you run because you love running! Remind yourself of all the ways running brings you intrinsic pleasure and what it is about running that you love. Find what excites you about running – and do a lot more of that.
3. PRACTICE RELAXATION
Stay Loose and Breathe
Research has shown that during a marathon, elite athletes constantly reminded or told themselves to 'relax', 'stay loose'. Learning techniques to keep calm, relax the body and save energy can help all runners. Experiment with breathing tips, running techniques and mindful exercises to help your head deal with any panics along the run. One technique is to focus on your breathing: controlled, relatively deep rhythmic breathing is the key to relaxation. When you breathe out, try to imagine the tension leaving your body.
Try to remain relaxed while running, but be aware of tension and fatigue in your muscles. It’s often a good idea to start from the head and work down, giving each area or group of muscles your attention. If you notice tension, try to focus on a cue word, such as ‘relax’ or ‘easy’ and try to let the tension flow out of the muscles.
There may be times when you feel overwhelmed, both in training and on race day. Accepting that there will be bad training days and bad miles along each run is the starting point to managing this.