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Marathon Brain Strategies From Runner’s World’s Dr. Jeff Brown

It’s spring marathon season once more. How can you tell? All of us in training are turning into giant balls of nerves. In one week, the mother of all marathons, The Boston Marathon, will be firing the starting gun for the 116th time. Nearly 40,000 runners will set off on their 26.2 mile journey whether they’re ready or not. Dr. Jeff Brown has offered up 8 great mental tips to prepare for next week’s race, or any marathon coming up.

Dr. Jeff Brown is a Harvard Psychologist and an author. He is also the lead psychologist for the Boston Marathon and the Chicago Marathon. Dr. Brown is on Runner’s World Magazine’s scientific advisory board as well. Today he released a short video titled “Boston Marathon Brain Strategies.” The video shares eight brain strategies for marathon runners as they prepare to take on one of the toughest challenges any runner can take on.

As I’m less than three weeks out from my spring marathon myself, I had to laugh at Dr. Brown’s insight to the marathoners brain. He’s worked with us loons for years and he wasn’t above calling us “obsessive”, “competitive”, and even “irrational.” Yep, he knows who he’s dealing with. As marathoners we think our situation is unique and that our worries would alienate us. Dr. Brown pointed out that we all feel very similar emotions and fears as race day approaches. To combat some of those emotions, Dr. Brown provided eight mental strategies that are good to keep in mind from start to finish.

1. “For increased confidence, trust your training.”
A great tip. As all training plans include a season of taper, many runners start to doubt the process. They may start to fear they’re losing fitness and begin to believe that race will be a failure. Dr. Brown was quick to point out that one must look and see how far the training has carried them and let it take them those last 26.2 miles.

2. Eliminate the “what ifs” the “Yeah buts,” and the “ if thens” in your thinking.
There are just too many negative possibilities, but dwelling on them will offer no benefit. Dr. Brown shared his little reminder, “negative thoughts make your shoes heavy.”

3. Put all of life’s distractions on the back burner, before and during the race.
Word! Unless a life is at stake, you will find me tucked away in my happy place purposefully ignoring the rest of the world the days leading up to the race. I gladly resume my role the day after the race. The distractions zap your energy and your focus.

4. If something unexpected happens, tell yourself, it’s okay.
Sometimes the “what ifs” do strike. Rain pours, wind howls, or an injury starts to aggravate your run. Dr. Brown is right when he says, just take it in stride, it’s not the end of the world.

5. If running in Boston, talk yourself up Heartbreak Hill.
Even if it’s not Boston, each race course will bring it’s challenges. If it is the infamous Heartbreak Hill, Dr. Brown suggests using words like, “float,” “glide,” or even “up,up,up.” Associating constructive, positive cue words can help one overcome the tough spots of a race.

6. Indulge your superstitions.
Dr. Brown encourages this especially when they make the runner feel familiar. However, he also points out that if a runner should forget their lucky socks, they will still be okay, “lots of socks will cross the finish line.” I know this is true. I wore the same shorts in my first seventh marathons. When I was picked up by a racing team before my eighth marathon, they supplied a uniform with new shorts. Turns out I could run a marathon in another pair of black shorts just fine, despite my minor freak out. Remember, Dr. Brown called marathoners irrational, right?

7. Choose two or three goals for your performance.
When things start to go differently than planned, we often come up with a “plan B.” Dr. Brown suggests setting multiple goals for different points of the race. This way the possibility of enjoying success and satisfaction with your performance increases. This is in comparison to only setting one time goal and not having any satisfaction if the one goal wasn’t met.

8. Remind yourself why you are running.
The legendary marathoner, Bill Rodgers told Dr. Brown, “Know why you’re there.” Everyone needs a purpose for that race, something to help you mentally dig deep when you think you’re spent. Many run for a worthy charity, others run for a loved one, there are lots of good purposes to keep going. I can kick the demons at mile 23 because I know my son will be at the finish line. From marathon number one, I’ve repeated to myself, “because he needs to know he can do anything.”

One week until Boston, and just a few weeks here or there until many other starting guns go off. It is spring marathon season. These tips are fantastic and spot on. Dr. Brown left all marathoners with one final note. Because he’s seen us all broken and beat down when we cross the finish line he said, “once you cross the finish line, don’t lie to yourself and say ‘I’m never doing this again.’”

Also Read:

How to Survive an Ultra Marathon

How to Build Endurance for a Marathon

April 11th, 2012

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