Marathon mental prep

Positive thinking is as important as physical fitness when it comes to conquering a marathon

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Getting your attitude in shape to tackle a marathon is as important as putting in your training miles, says Annie Gaudreault, lead coach of JeansMarines, a Toronto marathon running and walking group. “Much of your success will depend on how well you’ve prepared yourself mentally for the tough parts of the race,” she explains. According to Gaudreault, you need a variety of coping strategies to manage those times when your legs feel like lead weights and self-doubt starts creeping in. Follow these expert tips to keep your race-day enthusiasm high and cross the finish line with a smile.

Walk for a cause

Races supporting a cause that touches you personally can be a powerful motivator for training and completing an event, says Gaudreault. And knowing that your participation and financial contribution alone will help others in need can take the pressure off finishing with a super-speedy time. When your energy begins to wane, look around you and remember that many fellow walkers may be survivors of the cause you’re supporting.

Buddy up

“Training with a partner keeps the kilometres flying by,” says Linda Mattice, a walking coach from Riverview, N.B. Walking buddies feed off each other’s energy and act as a tag team encouraging one another when the going gets tough. In the best of situations, your partner will have goals and a pace that match your own so you can complete your race together. But always discuss your game plan before race day, suggests Mattice. Decide if you’ll stick together for the entire time or split up if one of you is feeling particularly strong or needs to stop at a porta-potty.

Call in the troops

Station your family and friends strategically along the route. There’s nothing better than spotting cheering loved ones to reboot your energy. Be sure they’re waiting at points in the race where you know you’ll need a boost.

Check your technique

When you need to perk up your pace, try concentrating on just one aspect of your walking technique. For example, emphasize pushing off with the toes for several minutes, then shift the focus to pumping your arms, then switch to pulling your navel up and in.

Sometimes, a quick break is the best solution of all. Toronto walker Jill Adolphe likes to stop and change her socks at the mid-point of a long race to prevent blisters. A two- or three-minute breather can also help recharge your batteries. “But try not to stop for too long, or you’ll start to stiffen up,” she warns.

Take it step by step

Don’t let the thought of 42.2 kilometres overwhelm you, says Adolphe. When it starts to feel like the finish line is an eternity away, focusing on walking from one kilometre marker to the next makes the distance seem much more manageable.

Vanessa Hamilton, a personal trainer in Prince George, B.C., offers a similar strategy: “Pick a point and tell yourself that you’ll just walk to that point. When you get there, pick another point, and so on.” At times when you’re feeling strong, try her “catch and release” game: “Focus on catching a walker ahead of you, and reel her in. Once you pass that walker focus your energy on the next one. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at the finish-line banner.”