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Mental Training For Athletes: How To Think Your Way To Marathon Success

In this week’s Tuesday article on The Smart Runner we’re taking a look at Mental Training For Athletes and the vital role mental conditioning plays in performance.

Is there merit to “thinking your way” to a top performance? Is it even possible or is this some kind of new age nonsense you need to steer clear of?

Mental Training For Athletes

Many runners, both recreational and professional, know at least conceptually, of the benefit of a positive mindset on performance. You know for example that showing up in bad form for an event won’t allow you perform to your best.

The Effects Of Negativity On The Body

Before we take a look at ways to develop mental strength and positive expectation, lets take a look at the physiological effects of negativity on the body.

  • Breathing becomes more difficult
  • Blood vessels to large muscles dilate
  • May cause nausea
  • Reduces the ability for the body to absorb nutrients
  • Muscles and liver produce heightened levels of glucose to the blood.

Positive Mental Training For Athletes

I’ve taken on a few daunting endurance challenges over the years and in preparation I’ve employed a couple of positive mental training practices that have served me well.

  • You’ll be calmer — things won’t get to you so easy
  • Experience better personal relationships
  • Improved quality of self talk
  • You’ll seem to have more time
  • Training will seem easier
  • Food choice and digestion will be improved
  • You’ll notice improved expectation of yourself
  • Better results at events


Meditation is often a misunderstood practice. It’s not about sitting for hours chanting Om like a buddhist monk. Meditation is more about finding the quiet space to be present without distraction of 1000 things to do.

  1. Sit in an upright kitchen chair
  2. Take out your phone and set the timer to 15 mins
  3. Hit the start button, close your eyes and place your hands on your lap
  4. Focus on your breath or some other sound like the clock ticking.
  5. Whenever you notice your mind drifting off, bring it back to your point of focus
  1. Make a cup of tea and go sit on your back step. Notice the sun rising, the clouds, the colour of the sky and the blackbirds singing. Think grateful thoughts for all that you have — your family, your home, your ability to run.


Seeing your event going exactly to plan in your mind before you get to the start line is a method of mental training for athletes many professionals use successfully.

“It’s been my dream for as long as I can remember. Every night going to bed I’d slide down the track in practice and I’d go through it, and visualise my dream. But I wouldn’t visualise winning, I’d visualise the process”

Visualisation is not only reserved for professional athletes. I use visualisation every day to picture what I want and I have used it successfully in the past for business and sport. You can use it too.

Here’s What To Do:

  1. After your meditation sit and visualise your event going exactly according to plan.
  2. See yourself getting ready that morning, everything being ready.
  3. Imagine yourself driving to the event and image your mood as good, clam, relaxed.
  4. Picture yourself at the start smiling, the crowd of athletes, the gun going off.
  5. See every corner, imagine looking at your watch — you’re right on target.
  6. See yourself crossing the line and see the clock above the finish with the exact time you want.


Affirmation is self talk — openly out loud, quietly in your own head and written in your journal or diary. It’s valuable to know that most people’s mental affirming is automatic, self critical and directed without real purpose.

  1. Take your journal and write in it one-sentence statements of who you want to be. Do it in the present tense and keep these to about 5 so you can remember them easily.
  2. Record yourself on your iPhone congratulating you on reaching your 3:30 time goal. It might seem nuts at first but if you play it to yourself every day it can have really powerful effects. Here’s what you might say;

“Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations. Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat.” — Sonia K. Kang, University of Toronto

Reader Bonus: Download your free copy of the Mental Training For Athletes Guide

In Conclusion — Does Mental Training For Athletes Work?

You better believe it!

“Somehow they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”

Well that’s what you do when you tell yourself you’re not good enough, or that you’re limited, or that other’s don’t think you’re good enough.

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Larry G. Maguire

Written by

Writer on Psychology of Creativity, Human Performance, Behaviour & Expertise | Examining Happiness & Work | Slight Perfectionist |

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