Of all the distance running events, the marathon presents the greatest challenges both physically and mentally. Even after completing all the required training and making it to the race site rested and healthy, arriving at the starting line in less than the ideal state of mind can have a devastating effect on your performance. Let's discuss a variety of mental strategies that will enable you to set realistic goals, complete the necessary training (in particular, the long runs), and be optimally prepared mentally for the challenges that await you in completing the marathon.
Please be familiar with the following terminology (described with positive outcomes), as each will be mentioned later in this section: mental rehearsal / visualization (the process of creating pictures or images in your mind), imagery (playing out/imagining in your mind the way you wish for an event to occur), self-talk (the "voice" in your head that can be trained to provide positive affirmations during adversity and tough times).
There are certain "prerequisites" or internal characteristic that a runner must possess in order to undertake the necessary training that the marathon requires. These include motivation, self-discipline, and effective time-management, all of which are inter-related characteristics. A coach can be enthusiastic about the training program he or she designs/presents and show interest in the runner's development; however, motivation and self-discipline must be developed primarily from within. The best marathon training program in the world will not enable a runner to make it to the finish line of a marathon if he or she isn't internally motivated to undergo and complete the training and then finish the race. Similarly, it requires a great deal of self-discipline to complete the long training runs while at the same time, cope with other daily distractions and manage all the personal responsibilities daily living provides. This is why it is crucial that the runner who wishes to train for the marathon be an effective manager of time.
Let's start with general goal setting considerations. For most first time marathoners, goal setting is simple: to finish the race! Nevertheless, regardless of your experience level and race aspirations, it is best to be as specific as possible when setting goals. Be sure to write the goals down, perhaps tell others about your goals, and set a time frame for achieving the goals. These strategies will enhance the possibility of achieving both your short-term objectives as well as your big goal. There are two basic types of goals: process goals and outcome goals. It is important to set short-term objectives (process goals) on your way to achieving the big goal (outcome goal). These are definitions and examples of process and outcome goals:
Process goals - These types of goals involve activities that focus on mastering the task and increasing one's skill level (e.g., the knowledge and training needed to complete a marathon). Examples of process goals include: following the training schedule as closely as possible; improving your nutrition; reading as much as you can about the marathon; consulting with your coach on a regular basis; getting more sleep to be as rested as possible, etc. Outcome goals - These goals relate to the finished product or stated differently, goals you hope to accomplish in the marathon. Examples include: breaking 4 hours in the marathon; running the second half of the marathon faster than the first 13.1 miles; defeating a rival; running a personal best in the marathon.
Let's talk now about marathon goal setting considerations. In the couple of weeks prior to the marathon, think about three (outcome) goals you would be interested in accomplishing for your marathon: (1) an easily obtainable goal, (2) a realistic yet moderately challenging goal, and (3) an ultimate goal. Determine a strategy to achieve the ultimate goal, but build into your plan flexibility to aim for less ambitious goals if things don't pan out the way you had planned. Above all, be realistic. For example, if you don't possess the genetic predisposition (natural ability) to run a sub-38 minute 10k, there is very little chance you can break three hours in the marathon, no matter how positive an attitude you possess!
Run The Planet thanks the State of the Art Marathon Training website (www.marathontraining.com) for the permission to reprint the article "Marathon Training - Psychological Issues". Text © 1997-2006 by Art Liberman - All rights reserved. Illustration © 2006 by Run The Planet.