“Marathon running is mental,” people might say to you. “You must be crazy to do it!”
“Marathon running is mental,” you can say back to them. “You must be mentally strong to do it.”
For the Paris Marathon next weekend, I feel ready in my legs, in my heart and lungs… and in my head as well.
Having already run it twice, I know the course. I can see myself bounding down the first cobblestoned kilometre on the Champs-Elysées, grabbing a water bottle at Bastille, profiting from the shade of trees in the Bois de Vincennes, following the Seine from Notre Dame to the Trocadero, then steeling my mind and body for the last few miles through the Bois de Boulogne.
And not only do I see the race, but I also see myself getting up at 6 a.m., having my breakfast (banana, porridge with honey, no caffeine), heading out the door to catch the tram and then crossing the river for the metro. Look, there I am – leaving my stuff at the baggage tent, warming up on the Avenue Foch, looking over at the Irish embassy, then heading down to the start area on the Champs-Elysées.
Even if it doesn’t go like all that, then I see myself successfully adapting my plans to suit the circumstances.
Of course, at mile 20 I’ll find it mentally hard going, just like everyone else – this is ‘the wall’ that marathon runners hit. I’m pushing my body past its natural limit, and my body is going to call in my brain to help kick up a right old racket. (‘Racket’ being appropriate, as this usually happens to me as the race passes Roland Garros, home of the French Open in tennis.) My usual thought is ‘why am I doing this?’
And then I remember why: because I chose to do it. I’m here by choice.
My theory about ‘the wall’ is that it’s normal to feel it and so you must be prepared for the mental strain that you know is going to happen around mile 20. If you recognise it, then you have a good start in dealing with it. Now is the time to recall your months of good training – those long runs on cold Sunday mornings are cash in the bank which you can now draw on to finish the race.
I must try not to get frustrated if I’m not on target for the time I want – I must be able to adapt my plans on the spot, and perhaps improvise a new goal. (This worked for me in last year’s Dublin Marathon.) I must make sure I don’t start feeling sorry for myself – I’m responsible for my choice in being here and for the quality of my training. I must reassure myself that the best and quickest way to get over the wall is just to keep the legs turning.
I must remember to enjoy the race.
Marathon running is mental, but so is life.