If you’ve signed up to run a marathon, or really a race of any distance, you’re probably expecting to endure some kind of physical discomfort in the course of completing it, although hopefully you’ll develop a good idea of what those physical challenges will be during your training.
What is harder to anticipate, however, is the mental challenge of completing an endurance race. With the right mindset it’s possible to overcome various kinds of physical pain (within limits – you can’t power through an injury on the day), but when your legs are screaming at you and you’re gasping for breath with five, ten or 15km left to run, it can be tough to maintain a positive frame of mind.
The good news is that, according to Team GB ultrarunner and Montane ambassador Debbie Martin-Consani, you don’t need to maintain a positive frame of mind.
“When things are getting really tough you’ve got to try to disassociate from how you feel at that time. I don’t over-focus on staying in a positive, so-happy-to-be-there state. Once you get into a negative mindset, things are screaming at you to stop and you just don’t want to be there, so I try and stay in a neutral place – even if it’s just focusing on my breathing and emptying all the rubbish that’s in my head. I focus on just breathing in, breathing out, over and over again.
If that doesn’t work, or only works temporarily, Martin-Consani has other tricks up the sleeve of her high-tech running top. “Another thing I do is count, because if you’re focusing on counting, you’re not thinking about anything else. Just count to 30, 40, 100 – don’t count too high, you’ll get frustrated. I count to 30 or 40 over and over again until I start to calm down.”
There are lot of things that can stress you out during a race – physical pain, how much distance you have left, time concerns if you’re chasing a PB… But if you can find a way to clear your head and get into a neutral state, you’re going to enjoy the event a lot more.
“You can get really stressed and that’s what causes all the negative things,” says Martin-Consani. “It might not necessarily be because you’re feeling discomfort – you’re going to feel discomfort anyway. When your head goes it’s because you’re getting mentally stressed. Focus on mindfulness and think about anything other than the negative stuff that’s in your head.”