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How To Train For A Marathon (Mental Preparation)

This is the final post in our marathon miniseries, yet the subject is equally as important. No matter how much physical training you do, or how cautious you are with your diet, the mental roadblocks you will hit over those 26 miles can put you out of the race. Taking the time to prepare mentally is crucial for success.

Looking back at our marathon training miniseries

Our post on the physical aspects of training for a marathon discussed:

  • Practising on a treadmill as well as street running

  • The importance of discipline and consistent training

  • A look at how often you should run

  • Factoring and calculating pace

The middle post in our miniseries explored the nutrition required for successful training, specifically:

  • Eating the right amount

  • Water as a crucial element

  • Keeping your energy levels up when running

  • A drawback you may experience

  • The importance of experimenting with different fuelling strategies

How to mentally prepare for a marathon

Studies show that 14% of race success is attributed to mental toughness. How mentally prepared you are for race day will have an impact on your performance. Just like physical exercise, you need to take the time to strengthen your mind and build that strength gradually throughout your training. What this looks like will differ for everyone, so it may be useful to speak to some of your running pals to gather additional advice.  

Name your fears

No matter your experience with running, anticipating a marathon will bring with it excitement, but also fear. Physically saying your fears out loud (even if you are alone) will help you take control of your anxieties, allowing you to harness them.

Consider making a list of all the things that you are worrying may go wrong on race day, from having to walk more than you run to not finishing at all. This will allow you to prepare for every eventuality and, if anything does go wrong, you will be ready to react.

If you know anyone who has completed a marathon, ask them what fears they had, and how they dealt with them. They may be able to negate some of your fears, giving you one less thing to worry about in the run-up to the race.

Be realistic in what you tell yourself

Our internal voice has an impact, so it is essential to remain as positive as you can during training. However, being unrealistic may be a hindrance, so it is crucial to strike the right balance. An example would be someone who is taking on their first marathon, hoping to outrun the professionals. This is an unrealistic goal with unnecessary pressure.

Practice mindfulness when running. If you have a particularly good run, make a mental note of what made this experience so successful and try to replicate it. You may ask yourself questions like:

  • Are you running at a different pace? 

  • Are your shoulders more relaxed than usual?

  • Did you eat something that is giving you an edge?

Being mindful during your runs, and using that to your advantage, will help you better understand how you are running during the actual marathon. If you are struggling, you can go through your list of what makes a run ‘good’ for you and make amendments accordingly.

Run for you, and you alone


When setting yourself a task as mammoth as running a marathon, there will be outside aspects that drive you. Being able to tell people that you have ‘done it’ is a fantastic feeling, but don’t let that be the only reason you sign up.

Take some time to list what stirred you to want to sign up in the first instance and then work to transform any ‘outside’ influences to ‘inside’ influences. If you want to prove to your co-workers, family or friends that you can achieve something as difficult and all-consuming as completing a marathon, try to alter your thinking so that the only person you want to impress is yourself. This will help to alleviate pressure and make the entire process much more enjoyable.

Visualise the day

Spend time researching and studying the race route. Not just the overall map, but where the drink stations are located so that you are mentally prepared come race day. Knowing how long you have to run between stations and breaking down the race into achievable ‘chunks’ can help you to stay mentally strong throughout the marathon.

Similarly, nail down your race-day routine. Knowing exactly where the starting point will be, what time you have to arrive and where you have to go after crossing the finish line will help to reduce your nerves. If it is possible to replicate the routine before the marathon (at least the routine before and after the race), everything will feel more natural on the day.

Running a marathon is one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences and will stay with you for your entire life. If you start training early and consider all three corners of the pyramid, it may just be one of the most enjoyable experiences too!