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Q&A: How to Stay Mentally Tough

What are your best tips for staying mentally strong when the going gets tough in training and on race day?

Running a marathon takes a lot of preparation, discipline, and hard work. It can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that running is supposed to be fun! To stay mentally strong during a marathon, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. Here are a few other tips to keep you going:

  • Set a realistic goal that’s challenging, but not out of reach: “I want to finish a marathon.” “I want to average a 10-minute mile.”
  • During the race, set short term goals to help reach your ultimate goal. Break up the race into manageable segments or use landmarks along the course as interim goals. Every time you reach one of these goals, it will be a success, and you’ll be able to focus on your accomplishments and not on what you have left to do.
  • Remember that your goal is to finish the race. Set a pace that will let you reach that goal, and don’t feel discouraged if others pass you.
  • Stay focused on what you can control. You can’t control the weather or the crowd around you – but you can focus on your running, setting your pace and achieving short-term goals.
  • Visualize the course. Picture yourself running on the course with proper form, enjoying your run and crossing the finish line. Imagining success will energize you to reach it.
  • Use positive self-talk, whether it’s a mantra you repeat to yourself to keep you motivated, or reminders of how much your goal means to you. Tell yourself you are strong, that you trained hard, and that you can finish, etc. Say these things out loud – this helps keep you focused on positive energy, not on the fatigue and discomfort you may be feeling.
  • Keep yourself occupied. Some people sing, fantasize, think about plans, or just focus on the scenery. Keep yourself entertained – boredom can drain energy!

The key is to use what works for you and to practice in your training. Know what motivates you before the big day – and enjoy the benefits of your hard work!

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR

Dr. Julia Kim

Dr. Julia Kim is a clinical psychologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is the first clinical psychologist to formally work within the HSS family and her focus is to develop an integrative care program, designed to incorporate psychological services into a multi-disciplinary care team. She works closely with physicians and surgeons to optimize the best possible medical outcome.

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