Normally when I write a blog it takes me longer to think of a title than it does to write the content, this time I was given the above incredibly interesting and thought provoking title to work with.
It’s a question i’ve been asked many times before when i’ve been planning and preparing for the 9 marathons i’ve run and I think the reason people use this questions is because they have little understanding or knowledge of the task i’m embarking on, and it’s similar to mental health in that we still have little understanding of what people are going through so they are often labelled by society as crazy or mental.
Those that have been on a marathon training journey before will know that mentally you go to some very dark places when out on those long runs and we often question our sanity as ‘To Why’ we are doing this and it’s by having a fundamentally solid goal or purpose that we come out the other side, often mentally stronger and more resilient.
The first thing I always ask a new client that wants me to write them a schedule to run a marathon is ‘Why?’ For what purpose do you want to put yourself through a minimum of a 16 week journey that will involve many hours and many miles of training, it takes over your whole life for that 16 week period.
It affects many areas of your life, your personal and social life is often put on hold as the usual Saturday night party nights become an early night as you need to get up at the crack of sparrows to get your long run in before you become the children’s taxi for the day. Work life often gets in the way as you plan run commute days in order to fit the midweek longer run in. The list of things it affects is very long indeed and every option needs to be thought of because if the environment and support around you isn’t positive towards your goal and aim then when things get tougher you will be more likely to miss runs and sessions and your dream of achieving a certain very quickly slips away.
I spend a lot of time working on the Goal/Outcome process with athletes as it’s the most important first step you take to becoming a marathoner. We look at The Why, The How, The When, What does it look like when you run up the mall and cross the finish line, what do you see, hear and feel as you achieve your goal. Seeing is believing, so it’s really important you can visualise your success. You also need to visualise key parts of the route whether it’s 10K markers, half way etc.
By having the solid outcome in place this helps with the noise inside your head, your ‘Running Reaper’. It keeps the noise at bay and under control and should it try and hijack your positivity and hamper your progress you will be able to deal with it in a strong and positive way so that it keeps quiet and lets you carry on happily.
As well as listening to the voice in your head it’s equally important you listen to your body as this is the best feedback indicator of how things are progressing, we too often rely on technology to tell us how we are going. If your body is telling you it’s tired then resting up or reducing a run distance is a much better option than pushing through and potentially breaking down, and this is where having a coach guide you along the journey and tweak schedules weekly is massively important to success, off the peg downloaded schedules don’t factor in when you feel rough, or have done a 14 hour day at work.
To help prepare mentally for the big day I always recommend that when you do your long run and sessions you take the tougher option, for example, if you do a 16mile training take the hilliest route as the mental strength needed will bode well come race day, it will also allow you time to get used to and deal with your own ‘Running Reaper’ rather than arriving on race day in complete mental chaos.
Go through every eventuality on race day, work through the options that may or may not happen. This is really important because on the day if you are confronted with a shock or surprise you will be prepared and will work through it as opposed to having a melt down of some description thus not achieving the outcome or time you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
So in short the keys things to a successful marathon are :
- A solid ‘Why’ or ‘For what purpose’ are you running a marathon?.
- The How, being supported by a qualified and experienced coach is vital so they can monitor progress and support you through change if needed.
- The When, make sure people are on board with you to achieve your outcome, support of friends, colleagues, managers, loved ones is massively important to create the right supportive environment to succeed.
- Preparation, prepare for the expected and prepare as well as you can for every other possible eventually.
- Listen. Listen to the voice inside your head and learn to accept it and work with it, don’t fight it.
- Listen some more, Listen to your body, this is the best feedback tool you will ever own. And the next time someone says to you ‘You must be mental to run a marathon” reply, Yes I am, i’m mentally strong and ready for the challenge.
Andrew Cohen-Wray is an Elite Mental Performance Coach and International Masters athlete. Andrew is the owner of ‘Athlete In Mind’ and is the creator of the mind management tool ‘The Running reaper’.