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Mentally Prepare for Your Best Boston Marathon

March 28, 2018|Sports Psychology

As the Boston Marathon approaches, marathoner and CPA psychologist Dr. Kristen Ihde shares her tips to help you have your best Marathon Monday.

Distance runners are typically very skilled at training their physical bodies. From detailed training plans to thoughtfully curated diets, many runners focus their time and energy on ensuring their body is up to the task of finishing the race. Unfortunately, even well-trained runners can find themselves struggling to go the distance if they aren’t prepared to manage and respond to the emotional stressors of the marathon. Here are my suggestions for preparing your mind to tackle the Boston Marathon:

  1. Prepare for Hopkinton. The long wait time in Hopkinton before the start of the race is something that makes the Boston Marathon uniquely difficult. Your alarm goes off early, you board a bus out of Boston, and you wait. Sitting around in Hopkinton while your adrenaline is pumping and you’re surrounded by runners of every shape, size, and ability is a prime breeding ground for pre-race anxiety. Keeping your mind occupied and redirecting your thoughts away from the “what ifs” around the marathon is paramount to having a good run. Some suggestions: make a playlist of your favorite songs, bring magazines or a book, engage your brain in an activity (e.g., Sudoku or a crossword puzzle), or download a meditation or mindfulness app (some suggestions are Calm, HeadSpace, and Meditate.)
  2. Ease into the start. There are many things that make a race as large as the Boston Marathon challenging, one being the sea of runners at the start. It can feel frustrating to be “stuck” behind runners who aren’t going out at your pace, which makes it easy to waste energy sprinting and bobbing and weaving through folks to try to find an open space. Instead of using up your energy and giving in to that stress, try to focus on mindfulness around the experience. You have 26.2 miles of running to make up the few seconds you may lose with a crowded start. Give yourself a minute to reflect on all of the hard work you put in to get here, you are about to have a 26.2 mile celebration of your early mornings, long miles, and hard fought workouts. Taking a moment to notice the incredible feeling of being surrounded by other marathon runners and reflect on the amazing thing your body is about to do will help you to avoid wasting unnecessary energy and get back in touch with why you are taking on this awesome challenge.
  3. Soak it in. Every year runners from all over the world set their sights on Boston. Whether it’s racing to qualify or planning a fundraising approach to entice a charity, simply gaining entry to the Boston Marathon takes a lot of work, and not everyone who tries will find themselves with a bib come April! You are one of the lucky ones, you will tackle the Newton hills, yell with the Wellesley College women, and celebrate making it to the top of Heartbreak Hill! The 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon are full of iconic sights and sounds. On Marathon Monday, be sure to take note of more than just your pace. It’s easy to get caught up in splits and pace charts and lose sight of the experience. Balancing a focus on your physical race with mindful attention to the experience will help to keep your mind engaged in the moment and away from self-doubting, negative, or critical thoughts. The Boston Marathon is rich with history and the course is lined with a support system that will carry you to Boylston if you let it.
  4. Ask yourself if it is discomfort or pain. Running a marathon is incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally. It is important to remember that there is a difference between physical pain which can signal injury and require medical attention and feelings of discomfort or exhaustion. It is not an “if” but a “when” you will feel uncomfortable and tired during the marathon. You are doing something inherently stressful, which can trigger your body’s natural stress response. The neurotransmitters and hormones released during this time can result in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature as well as muscle contractions/tightness, decreased circulation, and decreased coordination, also known to many runners as “hitting the wall.” Remember that your body is responding to the stress and that you are OK. Try refocusing your mind on something other than your physical experience, such as reading the poster board signs, high-fiving the crowd, or flipping to a favorite song on your playlist.
  5. Visualize your finish. No matter how many times you run 26.2 one thing will never change: it is hard work! Respect the distance and accept that there will be points during the race that feel physically and emotionally challenging. You can’t control when this happens or how difficult these moments feel, you can control how you respond to them. When the going gets tough, start to visualize your finish. Think about how it will feel, who you will celebrate with, and how delicious that post-race meal is going to be. Imagine running on Beacon Street and looking up at the Citgo sign. Visualize yourself turning right on Hereford and the feeling of seeing your final turn ahead. Picture that moment that you turn left on Boylston and look up at that iconic finish line, knowing that you are about to finish the BOSTON MARATHON!


Dr. Kristen Ihde is an experienced marathoner and licensed psychologist who provides individual psychotherapy, couples counseling, and psychological assessment for adolescents and adults in CPA’s Back Bay office. Here her talk more about mental preparation for the Boston Marathon at this free event, Through the Wall: Conquering Boston 26.2 with Marathon Sports on Friday, April 16th at 6pm. Click here for details and to RSVP.

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