Your first marathon can be one of the most challenging, yet gratifying experiences. Successful completion comes from not only putting in the physical preparation, but being mentally prepared as well.
In training for my first marathon (Rock and Roll New Orleans in February 2014), I focused on building mental resiliency and confidence in addition to physical strength. This was to ensure my head wouldn’t give up before my legs did.
I’d been training for, and racing half marathons for over 4 years prior to the marathon, so I didn’t doubt my endurance. However, I knew once fatigue set in, if there was bad weather, unexpected body aches, nerves (and really any host of distractions), I would risk compromising my goal. It was time to get mentally tough.
1. Embrace adverse weather
I was “lucky” to pick a February marathon, which meant I would be training through the darkest, wettest months in Vancouver. This ended up being both frustrating (waking up to every long run in the rain), but also served as fantastic mental preparation. Whether it’s hot or cold extremes, running in the rain or snow, overcoming climactic obstacles in your training teaches you to believe in your ability to persevere. Keep in mind, this goal doesn’t mean you can’t also invest in a great running jacket, quick dry fabrics, or ignore severe weather warnings. Be smart about your risks.
2. Train through fatigue
It’s as simple as saying yes, when your body wants to say no. Try integrating brick workouts (2 workouts in a day), back-to-back long run days, or a high volume training week during your marathon preparation to know you can continue to run when you feel like you have nothing left to give. During my marathon prep, I started run commuting once a week (7 miles/11km each way) on Friday in addition to my long runs on Sunday. If you integrate this tip, ensure you also integrate adequate recovery such as lower intensity weeks, multiple days off, regular massage or foam rolling.
3. Eat for a happy brain
The quality of your diet supports your mental health, and ability to produce the needed hormones and neurotransmitters for stress management, and mood boosting benefits. Be mindful of dietary toxins, among which are refined sugar, grains, alcohol and artificial food additives. I avoided alcohol a month before my marathon, and felt confident in how this allowed my body to prepare for and recover from my last few long runs.
Foods to emphasize would include those rich in the amino acid tryptophan, as a precursor to serotonin production. Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter, helping to keep your motivation and drive alive. Plant-based options include spirulina, spinach, chia and sesame seeds. These can be incorporated into a daily smoothie or salad, which also makes for a great recovery snack post-run. Read this article to learn more about the benefits of tryptophan.