Okay, so you finally make the decision that you are going to run your first marathon or maybe you have already been running marathons & want to “take it to the next level” by running your first Ultra Marathon (Note: An Ultra marathon is any race distance further than a marathon such as a 50 km, 50 mile, 100 km, 100 mile or beyond). As would be expected, there is a whole plethora of things that you will need to do. How far out is the race? What sort of training schedule are you going to need to ensure that you peak at just the right time to perform at your best on race day? Do you have too many miles on your current shoes and will need another pair? If so, will they be the same pair or do you need something different for the terrain on which you will be running? A quick visit with your local running store should be able to provide the correct shoes for your race and probably suggest a training schedule for you. There are also plenty of on-line sites where you can get a good training schedule.
With these two issues taken care of, you begin to focus on nutrition needs during the race as well as cross training those core and support muscles. Nutrition during the race often depends upon the specific distance and your race pace. For MOST marathons, a majority of runners can get by with a good electrolyte replacement drink (I.e. Gatorade™) and carbohydrates that are easy to digest and absorb (I.e. GU Energy Gel, Powergel, etc.). Be sure though, to do your training WITH these so that you do not have any race day surprises in your stomach. Strengthening core and supporting muscles in your local gym is also fairly straight forward. Although running mainly uses your legs (duh!), there are many, many supporting muscles that need to be strengthened in order to ensure injury free running and a solid performance on race day. Your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves all need to be worked in the gym along with your core muscles such as your abs, lower back, upper back, obliques, shoulders and arms. What you say? Yup. All of these “other” muscle groups play a critical role in ensuring proper posture, stride, balance and overall running strength that will be crucial during your race.
So - - - you now have all of this in place and in motion all leading up to race day. You have new shoes (broken in, right?), a great training plan, your nutrition is going well and you are feeling strong. Those early morning gym workouts are strengthening your entire core and supporting muscles and you are ready to Rock ‘n Roll on race day - - - Right?
One of the most critical “muscles” to train is above your shoulders, right between your ears! That’s right; your Mental Muscle!
You can perform ALL of the above actions with pinpoint accuracy but without properly preparing yourself mentally, it could all be in vain. There WILL BE a time in your marathon or ultra-marathon that your mental state will begin to unravel. You will be tired, physically fatigued and probably in some physical discomfort. You WILL begin to question whether it was even a good decision to even attempt the race at hand! Your mental strength is one “muscle” that cannot be overlooked if you want to successfully finish your race. You need to KNOW that you will be tired, fatigued, in pain and mentally unfocused at times. It is absolutely essential that you train for it. After your scheduled “long run” when your legs are tired, run again the next morning. Begin mental visualizations of your successful completion of your chosen race. Without the proper training of this often overlooked muscle, your successful completion may never happen.