Sometimes, running is all in the mind.
Mind Games

A tired mind can be just as troublesome as tired legs while training for a marathon

This week Aidan Curran discusses the mental side of running.

Aidan Curran is an experienced marathon runner and the man behind the Run And Jump blog.

I had a real shocker of a run last Tuesday night. My legs were fine; the problem was my head.

All the way around I felt wound up and irritable. My nerves were jangling. I couldn’t relax at all. I just wanted to get the bloody run finished.

I’m not sure what went wrong. I hadn’t had any stresses or worries during the day, and this particular interval session wasn’t one that filled me with dread. There weren’t any annoyances on my route either: no tripwire dog leads or pavement cyclists.

In the end I just had to get stubborn and plough through until I completed the session as planned.

Dublin Marathon first-timers are probably learning around now that marathon training is as tough mentally as it is physically – just like the race itself. It’s easy to get jaded by the monotony of training, on top of feeling anxious about the marathon challenge.

Never mind the wishy-washy inspirational quotes: what practical things can ease the mental burden of marathon training?

Mental tiredness can come from lack of proper physical recovery, which for most people means not enough sleep. This is not the time for late nights in front of the TV or online.

Over the years I’ve cut back on caffeine, sugar and fruit juices, and my evening meal is light and as early as possible, all as an aid to better sleep. At weekends I catch up on sleep with an hour’s nap – it really tops up the batteries.

CORRECTION KINGS OF THE MOUNTAINS A change of scenery while training can really help stimulate the mind. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Every so often I also adapt my regular route. Runners crave habit and routine, but even a small variation to my running environment gives me a good mental boost.

One trick I use is to run my usual loop in the opposite direction. Another is to fit in a run any time I travel. Last Saturday I did my long run around picturesque Mullaghmore in Co. Sligo; next week I’ll have a short spin around Hyde Park in London.

If the thought of the Dublin Marathon is weighing you down with dread and stress, then concentrate instead on the concrete task of finishing this week’s block of training, culminating in your long run as a race-day rehearsal.

Even with only six weeks to go, I’m not thinking much about the marathon itself right now. For one thing, I have the Dublin Half Marathon to get through this Saturday first.

Whenever I find the going is hard during a training run I drum it into myself that this is how I’ll feel at the business end of the marathon. This way, the mental tiredness of training prepares me constructively for the psychological shock at mile 20  - the ‘wall’ – on race day. It won’t take me by surprise, so I won’t panic or shut down the legs when I feel it.

Running further than 20 miles in some of my long runs, though only 22 miles at most, reassures me that I can get through the wall just fine.

And whether you’re training or racing, whatever the distance, if you find yourself struggling mentally and physically you can always use the time-honoured mantra:

“Just keep lifting your feet and you’ll finish”.

After all, the marathon is really a mental challenge that has a bit of running attached.

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