Marathon Training Your Mind

They say that the challenge of running a marathon is as much mental as physical… this being the case I recently asked my friend Amanda Hart, a Clinical Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner, for some hints on how to prepare my mind for my first marathon. Here’s the advice she gave me. I think this could apply equally to many areas of life, not just running – for example weight loss or professional goals. To find out more about Amanda and her work visit her Life Insight website.

For most people the subconscious mind is very visual. It’s strongly linked to the right brain, so visualisation can be a powerful way to tune your subconscious into what you want. When your subconscious has a goal it will work away in the background to help you get there; but you have to make sure that neither your conscious nor your subconscious mind are working to a different agenda! Focusing too much on what you DON’T want to happen, either consciously or unconsciously, can affect your chances of success.


During your training spend some time every day if you can, doing nothing but relaxing. Get comfy, put some background music on if it helps and sit or lie somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Then visualise a rich image of what you want to achieve – just fantasise about it in as much detail as you can! It may be just crossing the finish line or achieving a new PB, or whatever it is you want! Indulge yourself and imagine all the details… how you look, who is with you, what you can see, hear and smell – everything. It’s like rehearsing for it to happen! Do this often and you’ll create a blueprint for success in your mind. Many successful sports people say that they ‘rehearse’ victories over and over in their mind.  As well as imagining the desired end result, it is also helpful to picture the various stages along the way being achieved successfully – such as successful training sessions – as in this way you are not only telling your subconscious what you want, but how you want to get there. It’s a bit like mental planning.

Don’t dwell on ANY negative images of failure, as it will have exactly the same effect as above and will make failure more likely to happen. If you have a setback, ignore it and move on – don’t dwell on it. If there’s anything you’re struggling with mentally – or even physically – see if you can identify any conflicting ‘parts’ within yourself – for example, the part that wants to train every day in all weathers and the part that wants to be lazy! Again, get relaxed and imagine that those two parts of you are actually having a conversation. It’s best to speak out loud and it also helps to name them! Ask each part to state their purpose and aim and how they are helping you. Get them to listen to and comment on each other’s point of view. Then get them to negotiate and find a common ground or aim – something they can both agree to work towards that will help you reach your goal. It may involve one or both of them making a compromise or agreeing to change their role a bit. 

To keep yourself motivated, when you find yourself ‘in the zone’, such as when you’re having a particularly great training day, or any day when you feel invincible, allow yourself to mentally turn up all of the feelings as much as you can – really bask in it – then when you’re at your peak create an anchor by associating a physical gesture (or trigger in NLP speak) with the feeling. I usually suggest squeezing a thumb and middle finger together for a few seconds. Do it a few times while focusing all your attention on those positive feelings. After the moment has passed, you should find that you are able to summon the same feelings back instantly when you use the trigger again, which should now be associated with the great positive feelings. This has to be practised a bit, but it works a treat once your mind has accepted the anchor, and after a while it becomes almost automatic and you might not even have to use the trigger at all, but just imagine it to get the same boost! 

Lastly, talk to yourself in only positive ways. Any negative self-talk (“I can’t do it” for example) gets imprinted on the subconscious. Even if you’re having a tough day, say to yourself “Well, today’s just one of those days, tomorrow will be much better” or something similarly optimistic. Don’t criticise or doubt yourself. Negative self-talk can be very damaging to our morale and our chances of success. Also try not to speak to yourself using words like ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’ etc. This is not good as it’s harsh and judgemental towards yourself. So instead of “I really should train today” think “I will train today – but maybe later”, for example.

I’ve been practicing Amanda’s advice in training and hopefully there’s something here that will help you too, whatever you goal may be. Good luck!