The mental side of marathon training is tricky. You want to be realistic, confident, and optimistic all at the same time. I feel like I get to a point in training where I am confident and optimistic but then I will have a set back that will make me doubt everything. Today’s post will cover some of the things I have learned about breaking through a mental wall in training.
The Cycles of Training
There seems to be a cycle, at least for me, during marathon training of how I am feeling about the race. Before I start training I am excited and have high hopes for the upcoming marathon. Over the first few weeks of training I continue to feel optimism. I try not to get too excited and I keep in mind that the training is only just beginning. About 3-5 weeks in I start to doubt myself. I think about how hard some of my runs are feeling and how much more work I have to do before the race. Then, if I’m lucky, I make it to the taper.
If I have had a few good long runs I am usually back to feeling confident. Then, during the taper everything falls apart. I question every aspect of my training and convince myself that I am injured or or on the verge on an injury. Sometimes I feel like I am losing any fitness I had gained while training. I doubt any chance of reaching whatever goal I had for that race. Then race day comes….and usually I am happy with my performance. Sure we all have some bad races but its usually more due to issues on race day than problems with the training.
This particular training cycle has already led me to experience self-doubt. Here I am, for the first time, creating my own training plan. Even though I am following the plan that I came up with, I am constantly wondering if it will be enough, or if its too much and I will end up overtrained or injured. I know that I developed my plan based on what I have learned about my training in the past. I am also following advice I have taken away from the RRCA coaching course. The key is knowing my own body and how I am responding to the training. Even though I have been hitting my goal paces, I have no idea if that will truly translate to a good race time.
Past training cycles
One thing I like to do to quiet my self-doubt is to think about about past training cycles. Where was I in the beginning? What did I do for mileage/speed/workouts? How did I feel during the race? Usually doing this helps me to see that I am on the right track with my training.
Optimism and Motivation
Another way to stay optimistic is to boost my motivation. I may be super motivated before I start training but as the weeks go on I lose sight of my goal. I like to think about how good it feels to accomplish a goal, look back to races that went really well, and read articles/blogs about running motivation.
Keep it all in perspective
I think about why I am doing it all- and most of all remind myself that all of this is supposed to be fun! Typically while I am training I don’t mind making some sacrifices for training purposes. Even a 4:30 am alarm doesn’t bother me too much if I know its to get in a 16 mile run and get me one step closer to a good race. If that stuff starts to bother me, and I am getting “annoyed” by training, then we have a problem and I need to reevaluate things.
So I think its important to remember that mental walls are normal- both in training and while running. Take a step back and look at the big picture- and never lose sight of the goal ahead.
How do you break through mental walls in your training?
Sam @ The Running Graduate says
I love how you focus on the training being fun. It if isn’t, what’s the point? I think trusting a training plan can be scary, but it seems like you have put a great one together 🙂
Thanks, I sure hope so! I keep wondering if I should be doing more but I have to just trust the plan I put together!
meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles says
While I have no intentions to train for a 26.2, I do run a bunch of 13.1 and after needing to drop out of the Fitness Mag half in April, my thought process following that race needed lots of calming down. I knew I was not feeling well but after that race I had the Long Island half coming up three weeks later and the dropping out thing started weighing on my mind and making me doubt all of my training, other races and ability. I feared it would happen again. I needed to calm myself down (and I never ever get worked up about anything!) and realize what I was capable of and trust the miles I run each week.
I think that experiences like that can really cause for some self-doubt after, but usually a few good races can get you back on track. I have to really make a point to not focus on the races that didn’t go well because I get stuck thinking about how it could happen again. Focusing on the good races works better!
Susie @ SuzLyfe says
This is a great post, and well timed. I think so many people are at that point in their training–either entering taper or at the midpoint, when they are staring down the rest of training–where the “fun” tends to fall to the side. One of the greatest things that I have ever learned in terms of training perspective is to accept the mental battles alongside the mental triumphs–you need to battle through things in order to conditions yourself. Like the harder runs, it is all part of the overarching plan!
That is such an important point. By overcoming the mental battles in training, we become stronger and better prepared to face other mental struggles ahead of us! It is definitely a part of the plan!
Staying positive always helps me too. It motivates me to keep going.
Absolutely. Without being positive we lose sight of everything we are working towards!
Natalie @ Never Serious Blog says
I experience this EVERY training cycle. It’s hard when you get in that mental funk, but usually all it takes is a few good strong runs to get me out of it!
Usually its the same for me too! I just always get nervous that those “good runs” will never come. (But they always do:))
I have always been one to have the race day jitters but never full out panic because of the training. As an older runner (60 years young!) , and only starting my running addiction 4 years ago, my goals are different than some half or less my age. So my strength probably comes from life and not a strong body. The mental aspect of running is probably the hardest.
The mental part of running is definitely challenging! I think that life experience can definitely prepare you to fight those battles while running. It’s all about staying motivated and keeping your goal in mind!
Kirtley Freckleton @ The Gist of Fit says
Isn’t self-doubt the WORST?! Why do we allow ourselves to do it, over and over?! It does us no good. It doesn’t even make us train harder. Don’t you wish we could have filters programmed into our heads that block all the negative self-talk? Haha, that would rock. I guess we can train ourselves..but still, those quick moments of guuuuuuh.
You’re awesome! You’ve got so many fans rootin’ for your success!!
I know, it’s like we never learn! But I think its all part of the process. If we aren’t nervous at all, it might mean our goal isn’t great enough:)
Chrissy @ Pink Polish and Running Shoes says
I’ve never trained for a marathon or a half marathon distance, but I would guess hitting a mental wall is just part of the process. Like anything else in life, training has it’s ups and downs.
It’s true, and I do think its part of the process. Training is a long and tiresome process so there are bound to be lows along the way:)
Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes says
I haven’t figured out how to break through my mental wall yet. I think the key for me is being able to have some good runs that make me feel more confident! Hopefully i’m headed in that direction soon!
That always helps me too! At least you have been running pain free so that should give you a confidence boost:)
Perfect timing on this post, it’s exactly what I needed to read today. Now that my last big run is over, I’m starting to think about my goals for the race and losing confidence in myself with every single second that ticks by. I know that I’ll run faster during the marathon than during training, that’s been the case with every race I’ve done, but the marathon is a whole new beast and it’s very intimidating! You’re right though, the only thing we can do is reflect on our past achievements, trust our training and remember that it’s supposed to be fun! Plus, everything seems impossible until it’s done, right?!
Yes! Just think about all the hard work you have put in! You will definitely run faster on race day but as long as you stay positive at the very least you will finish! Try to think about how awesome it will be to cross that finish line:)
Brenda @ Don't Lose the Trail says
I think sometimes we all lose sight of the fact that training should be FUN and we are running because ostensibly we ENJOY IT. I can relate to the nagging doubt about training plans….I am training for my first ultra and I am constantly wondering if the plan I have is going to be enough!
I can imagine that an ultra would be wayyy different to train for than a marathon. I’m sure if you have looked into the best way to train that you will do enough! And its so important to remember that its supposed to be fun!
Good points to remember. It has really helped me to read blogs and realize that everyone experiences doubts…I have tried this training cycle to document my training, which I think will help me look back and see that I “did the work”! The marathon is the process, not just the race!
Definitely! I mean, we can’t control alot of what goes wrong on race day. But we can do our best to train and I think we need to remember that when we start to have self-doubts!
As my runs started getting longer, I was having self doubt the morning of the long runs. Maybe not self doubt, more like “why am I doing this?” I just reminded myself of how I was going to feel when it was over – awesome! Most of my runs were pretty good – and went as planned, so I had no reason to doubt anything. Now that I’ve got this knee problem, I think that’s going to weigh on my mind more than anything once I’m able to start running again. I’ll be afraid of injuring it again, worried about my form contributing to injury, etc.
I know how that goes, and I have had my share of injuries so I can definitely relate. But I know that if you do the PT as recommended and come back to running slowly that you will do great!
Great post!! I personally think you’re doing amazing. You’re hitting goal paces, doing the hard workouts and that is where it counts.
I like to visualize myself crossing the finish and BQ ing—this makes me so happy!!!! And I constantly think about my BQ during my training runs!! Keep your goal in the forefront of your mind and it’s visualization will help you!!
Yes visualization is a great tool to prepare for a race! I like to do that too. I just hope that the training is appropriate- and I’m sure it is, it’s just constantly a question in the back of my mind:)
April @ RunTheGreatWideSomewhere says
Taper madness is the worst! I’ve never done a full, but when I taper for a half I get insecure and stir crazy. Great tips to focus on how prior training cycles went. Thanks for linking up with us today!
Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home says
I try to make sure all the pieces are in place. For this upcoming marathon, physically, I’m ready! So now it comes down to mental strength! I have to keep reminding myself how far I’ve come and how ready I am.
Michele @ paleorunningmomma says
I was nodding through the whole post – I completely relate to all of it, especially the progression of the psychological experience throughout the training. I find myself questioning my training plan really often – mileage, individual workouts, paces, – even though at the beginning I felt like it was a solid plan. I think the fear of the unknown comes into play here. It’s like we’re playing out our fears about life through our marathon training! And the way we get through it can apply to anything in life too.
Good to know others experience all this craziness in their training too!
Brenda @ Don't Lose the Trail says
Hey I just wanted to let you know that I linked to this post in my post today!
Thank you for sharing!
Kristen @ Glitter and Dust says
When I reach a mental wall in my training and struggle through some of my runs, I start to break down my runs into little goals and challenges. For example, if I have a 10 mile run, I will focus on just the first two miles, see how my body feels, and then re-evaluate how I want to pursue the next two miles. If I take small steps instead of focus on the big picture it seems to help and give me a little boost along the way. There are also days when I mentally feel run down and need to take a break to reset and recharge. I’m not afraid to take a rest day, even if I have a run on my schedule, if it means I will come back stronger the next day.
That all sounds really great! I also like to break my run into smaller parts- its so much less intimidating!
And I agree that its ok to take an extra rest day to recharge! I know for me it can be hard but I feel so much better when I do!