The marathon – a whopping 42.195km race – can be said to test our mental toughness to the limits. It is foolhardy to attempt one without training physically for it, but equally unwise to neglect mental preparation.
But how do we find and train this so-called “mental toughness”?
“Why am I doing this?”
This question is much the simplest way to be more resilient. In the face of burning lungs and throbbing bodily aches, always remind yourself just why you had even started the race in the first place. By revisiting the primary motivation, a certain freshness – unique only to the mind – reinvigorates a runner in times of seemingly overwhelming pain. This is why our Singaporean ah boys receive a letter, written by their parents, during the peak of their Basic Military Training (BMT) that is the gruelling Field Camp.
For some of us, the race is a personal challenge; for others, it could be a dedication to a higher cause. Whatever the case, re-emphasising the reason to yourself helps you stay fresh and focused. Our advice here is to apply this active, conscious remembering both to the marathon itself and any prior training leading up to it – especially when the initial high of committing to the race dies off.
In a nutshell: when the going gets tough, the tough gets going...when we are reminded of why we do what we do.
Practise, Practise, Practise
As mentioned previously, we often neglect training the mental aspects of a marathon. It’s as though we expect mental toughness to come naturally to us, or that physical training alone is enough to nurture that sense of mental resilience.
Like every muscle, the brain has to be trained. One prominent way of doing this is to practise the act of visualisation. Visualisation involves dreaming up mental images of oneself in a particular setting, for the purpose of being comfortable in the said setting.
This practice, embraced by world-class athletes from our very own Joseph Schooling to tennis great Novak Djokovic, allows one to get acquainted with the reality of performing at the highest levels, where doubt often creeps in. Surely, there’s something to be learnt here from our shifus (masters) of sports?
“Like every muscle, the brain has to be trained.”
Often times, we expect a race to be simply a race to be run. We do not delve into the details of what can and might go wrong on race day.
It’s important to realise that not every marathon will go as planned: the birds will certainly not be chirping when you wake up, and neither will rainbows be forming over the start-line. Over-excitement the night before also usually kills any restful sleep. The earlier we shed off the mentality that everything will be perfect on race day, the less of a rude shock we get.
After establishing that things can go wrong, it is only natural, then, to pre-empt any problem that we can anticipate or resolve. Checklists for a list of items to be packed (socks, race forms etc.), directions to the start-line and more should all be prepared in advance to keep the peace of anticipating a long and possibly painful endeavour. This way, you can avoid any undue panic that will unsettle your resolve to complete the marathon the way you aimed to.
A marathon can be an extremely daunting endeavour to pursue – it’s no run in the park. To ignore preparation for the mental aspect of this demanding race might end your race even before you can say “marat-“.
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