The purpose of this article is to outline the concept of mental toughness amongst runners in a marathon with the use of mental skills. Mental toughness associates to the ability of coping under pressure with self-belief and focus. One can assume that mental toughness in marathon runners would be important given its duration. Performers can implement the following specific mental skills to manage both their training and actual performance.
- Process goals – Setting goals is a common strategy that are set in order to maintain motivation and desire to meet targets. Marathon running should be no different. Setting goals for process and performance are therefore essential. Too often performers set goals that do not consider how to achieve the outcome. For example, somebody sets a goal to finish the marathon at a certain time. This goal is not useful because if the runner realises halfway through they are struggling it can be detrimental on both performance and mindset. Therefore, one should consider setting process and performance goals. These goals can be set for both training and actual marathon. For example, one can breakdown the marathon into segments (e.g. every 5 miles) and set goals for this purpose.
- Positive self-talk – Performers, within the marathon time frame, will experience an array of emotions and thoughts that can cross the mind. To help support and facilitate this process one can use positive self-talk. Positive self-talk replaces negative thinking. For example, ‘I am suffering and feeling like I won’t complete’ can be replaced with ‘I am going to complete this marathon because I have trained hard and will feel much better on completion.’ Positive self-talk enables the neural pathways in the brain to function with more positivity than with negative thinking. In fact, negative thinking will impact on the neural pathways that confuse the brain and associates to creating anxiety that impairs performance.
- Imagery – The use of imagery is an effective mental skill when used consistently and effectively. Imagery enables a marathon runner to set segmented targets to reach. For example, make pictures in your head that will see you completing 3 miles; 25% of the race; 50% of the race and actually completing the race. Through imagery a runner can identify positive images that would supplement an opportunity to complete the marathon. Examples of imagery in a race require the runner to visualise completing sections of the run and feeling positive. As mental toughness contains elements of competition focus, imagery is a key skill that will enable runners to cope. Mentally tough performers have the pedigree to maintain consistent focus during a marathon.
- Resilience – Given the nature of a marathon and exposure to various elements (e.g. behaviour, emotion, thoughts, environment, weather) resilience is vital. Resilient runners are those that can cope with adversity and have a desire to complete the run. Resilience is about knowing what to do and how to pace your run. Resilient performers can also complete the marathon because they have the psychological ability to cope with both physical and mental fatigue.
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About Gobinder Gill
Gobinder is a lecturer in Sport Psychology and Research Methods at Birmingham Metropolitan College in the West Midlands.