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Q&A: How Can I Prepare Mentally for the Marathon?

My longest training run is only 18 miles. Is there anything I can do to prepare mentally for that extra distance in the marathon?


There are many ways to start preparing your body mentally for that extra marathon distance. You’ve spent months training your body, but those last few miles—when your body is fatigued and you begin to question yourself—is when the real work of the marathon begins. It truly is “mind over matter” at this point, and it’s the hardest part of your training. Here are a few tips to help with mentally preparing yourself for the best 26.2 of your life.

Visualization: Visualize yourself doing the things that will get you to cross the finish line. Picture yourself “hitting the wall” and then picture yourself pushing through it! Visualizing yourself completing the marathon is a powerful image that will be able to take you those last few miles. Doing this helps to focus your attention on the details that lead up to the goal, and not just the overall goal itself. This prepares your mind to help you push through the tough moments to get where you want.

Choose an inspiring quote: Choose a quote that inspires you, or think of someone that inspires you, and when you start to feel fatigued during the race, think of that quote or person. Repeat the quote out loud or to yourself; think of all the reasons why that person inspires you. The positive energy you associate with that quote or person will manifest into helping you get through those last few miles.

Create a goal for after the marathon: Many people have the goal of finishing a marathon, and spend months training—but what happens afterwards? Set a goal for after the marathon. It can be anything! Some people start thinking about what their first meal post-marathon will be and make that a goal. Others register for another—smaller—race. For instance, signing up for a 5K a few weeks after the marathon is a great way to stay in shape, and it gives you yet another goal to focus on.

Start making positive affirmations: If you are not a seasoned marathoner, you may fall into the category of people that say to themselves and others around them: “If I finish the marathon, I’m going to…” or, “If I hit the wall during the race, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Start changing that to “When I finish the marathon, I’m going to…” and “When I hit the wall, I’m going to push through it to the finish.” Start replacing your “if” statements to yourself and others with more affirmative positive statements that will allow you to start building more confidence in yourself and in your ability to finish the race.

Whether your longest training run was 16 miles or 22 miles, allowing yourself to enjoy the race will help you to appreciate all the hard work you put into training, both physically and mentally. You have to have faith in your training and, more importantly, in yourself.


Varsha Seemangal

Varsha Seemangal, PT, DPT, MST, is a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Rehabilitation Department. She received her doctorate in physical therapy from Columbia University. Seemangal is a lifelong runner and has completed two marathons, several half-marathons and many 5K races. Her clinical interests include sports-related injuries and how they relate to musculoskeletal deficits.

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