Mental Preparation for the Britain's Ocean City Half Marathon

When talking about distance running, it is common to hear people say that it is “all in the head” or that it is “mind over matter”. There is truth in this. Having a good mind-set plays an important role in perseverance during long-distance events. Whether your goal is to finish, to achieve a time, or to place well in the standings, there are things that you can do to help you get your mind-set right. Based on research evidence, we have four suggestions for you:

  1. Control the ‘controllables’ before attending the half marathon. Simple considerations, such as preparing yourself a packing checklist, researching likely road closures and congestion that could make you late, aiming to arrive that little bit earlier, and knowing where to park, register, and use the loos could save you stress, anxiety, and frustration on the day. You may also find it useful to review course information to learn things like locations of water stops or where to find pace teams at the event.
  2. Be flexible with your goals. It is common for runners to have one “do or die” goal. Having a goal, such as to finish in 2 hours, can be very motivating for some, but it can sometimes be a source of negative thoughts and feelings of disappointment when things don’t go quite to plan. Setting a goal time as a range, such as to finish between 1 hour 55 and 2 hours 05, allows flexibility should you have a great day or a bad day. Many runners also like the idea of having three different levels of goals for the race.
    • A dream goal: What you aspire to achieve under perfect conditions?
    • A good-day goal: What would you be happy with if things go less than perfectly?
    • An acceptable goal: What would you be satisfied with, if things do not go as expected?
  3. Use your self-talk as a weapon. By self-talk, we mean those things that you say to yourself out loud or in your own head. Intentionally saying motivational things to yourself during exercise can help you to overcome exertion and pain, and to persevere for longer (e.g., to help you get further up a hill before walking!) or sustain a faster pace that translates to a faster finishing time. Saying positive things to yourself after encountering adversities, such as falling behind your good-day goal or running in awful weather, may also be important for remaining focused and motivated.
  4. Plan in advance how you will cope with adversity. Sport psychologists call this “if-then planning”, because it is about planning what you will do if something happens. Your planned responses could relate to your thinking (“If the weather is awful, then I will adjust my goal”) or your actions (“If I feel more tired than expected, then I will drop my pace”). If-then planning could help you to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges encountered before and during the half marathon. You may find it helpful to identify the most likely adversities—perhaps from your own experience, by asking someone experienced, or by doing your research (e.g., reading blog posts on the half marathon)—and planning in-then responses for all of them. You may also find it helpful to visualise encountering and successfully coping with each of these adversities.
Alister McCormick and Melissa Coyle, Sport and Exercise Psychologists
Department of Sport
University of St Mark and St John