Healthy Habits

Tips to Build Mental Strength This Marathon Season

  • 17 May 2024


So, you’re tackling the big one – a marathon. Congrats! Training’s kicking your butt (hopefully in a good way), and you’ve got miles under your belt. But let’s be real: 26.2 miles (or 42km) is more than just physical endurance. It’s a mental odyssey, too. So, how can you mentally prep for your marathon motivation, both in advance and on the day? We’re getting into that. Dive in.


During a marathon cycle, we pore over every little aspect of the training plan: the pace, the weekly mileage, the heart rate zones, the cadence, the running power. Each workout is meticulously planned. Not only that. We also pay close attention to additional factors such fueling strategy, running shoes, or clothes. However, there’s one thing we tend to overlook and usually isn’t written in the training plan. That’s mental readiness.

While training for a marathon, you’re going to spend much time… well, running (duh!). That gives you many hours to practice and mentally prepare for the big day. Yes, you can train your mental preparation. During you next training session, try these ten tried and tested mental strategies to crush your race.


This is as obvious as it gets. A marathon is a very long race, so how deep can you dig when everything in your body tells you to give up? That’s perhaps the most crucial mental preparation you can do before a marathon. As the former elite middle-distance runner (and Senior Specialist at Polar Research Center), Tommy Granlund, sums it up, “It’s easy to communicate when someone is listening, but really hard when there’s loud background noise and someone is shouting at you. In the same sense, it’s easy to run smoothly when there’s no pain, but when pain increases, it’s hard to command the legs.”

When you begin training (for the first time or getting back into it for the new season), your body may not be happy about your decision to run a marathon. Listen to your body, but also recognize that there is an adaption process. A gradual training program to help your body adapt to these stresses slowly and overcome your fears of pain or injury.

Mentally prepare yourself for the likelihood of hitting a wall. It is common in all endurance sports but looks and feels different for everyone. Essentially, it’s when your body feels so drained of energy that you think it will be impossible to finish. Your mental aptitude will help propel you through this stage, so be prepared to have a mind-over-matter moment by remembering that your mental resilience is even stronger than your legs.


Creating a mental image of your next race (or workout) and watching it play out as realistically as possible is a powerful tool to prepare for what’s to come. You can try this comfortably at home or daydreaming during a long run. Imagine the race course, every little turn and that punishing hill. Think where you’re going to push hard and when you need to hold back. How will you feel during as miles go by?  

Visualize the positive moments too. Picture yourself crossing the finish line, arms raised, grin wider than a banana. See yourself conquering each mile marker, feeling strong and steady. This isn’t just daydreaming – it’s mental rehearsal, priming your brain for success. As Tommy puts it, “Instead of being afraid of failing or not reaching the target and hence being anxious, it’s better to think, “What if I succeed and make it?”

Achieving this victorious visualization is something you develop slowly alongside your physical stamina. “In training, you are building the race confidence,” notes Tommy. “You just have to work consciously on that mental part as well while doing the hard work. Envision reaching the goal piece by piece, tenths of seconds and hundreds of seconds at a time.”


At its core, running a marathon is a lonely and long endeavor. During the race – and weeks of training–, you’re going to spend many hours alone with your thoughts. That’s why the value of using mantras cannot be overstated. These simple yet powerful phrases serve as a source of motivation, focus, and mental strength throughout the most difficult moments. Whether it’s simple phrases such as “one step at a time” or “I am strong,” mantras help you stay grounded, combat negative thoughts, and maintain a steady pace. They provide a constant reminder of personal strength and resilience, helping you push through physical fatigue and mental barriers.

You don’t have to wait until race day to practice your favorite mantras. Write them down now, memorize them, and test them on your next training session. Get used to tap into mantras to reignite your determination and drive. You’ll be surprised how incorporating mantras in marathon training and racing can significantly enhance performance and foster a positive mind essential for success.


A flawless marathon training cycle doesn’t exist. Yes, we strive to adhere to a meticulously crafted plan, but no, we won’t always be able to execute each workout as prescribed. Life happens. Bad weather, illness, other life commitments, or simply having a bad day are common during weeks-long marathon training plans. That’s ok. Don’t get disappointed when things don’t go as expected – your progress isn’t stalling due to a few misses.


One of the most beautiful things about running a marathon is the unknow. No matter how well you’ve trained, you can’t predict what will happened during the 42k. However, human beings don’t deal well with uncertainty. When facing the unknown, we tend to have negative thoughts. What if it’s too hot? What if I hit the wall? What if I don’t drink enough water? What if I drink too much water? The truth is there’s no basis for these negative thoughts, so why not flip them and think positively? What if you have a great day? What if the weather is optimal? What if everything goes according to plan?

Also, surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you will help boost your morale. Their cheers, texts, and good vibes are your emotional sports drink, keeping your mind motivated and energized. Join online communities, find running buddies, or even try writing motivational mantras on your arms so they can give you a burst of inspiration as you train.


It’s normal for doubts to creep in like unwelcome spectators. Don’t fight them – acknowledge them, then turn them into mental fuel. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst-case scenario? Can I handle it?” Chances are, you can. Remember, even elite runners have wobbly moments.

If you find yourself struggling with your worries, then talk to someone about it. Sharing your anxieties with supportive friends, family, or even a therapist is like having a mental pit crew. Vent your fears, celebrate your victories, and let them remind you why you’re doing this. Their positivity will be your mental energy drink when the going gets tough.


When those doubts creep in – and they will –, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Read, for example, what Helsinki-based running fanatic and Polar’s Content Marketing Specialist Eduardo Alonso has to say about his reasons for running marathon.

“I don’t believe I particularly have any significant natural talent for running,” he says. “So, my progress is more due to being consistent and putting in the work. Therefore, during difficult training periods, I tell myself “inspire” because I know that friends and running buddies have noticed that consistent work brings results. If I can dream of running a sub-3 hour marathon, perhaps I can inspire others to do the same. Telling myself “inspire” keeps me going.”

Eduardo’s story is an excellent example of why finding your why is essential. Are you doing this to prove something to yourself? Need a goal to work towards? Want to regain your fitness from your younger years? Raise money for charity? Or inspire others? Identifying your why will help drive your motivation, whether it’s your first or your fifteenth marathon.


Use your training sessions as an opportunity to discover what music gets you going and keeps you going. It’s your chance to slowly craft a soundtrack for the big day that will carry you through the entire journey. Are you a disco jogger or a metal marathoner? Does 90s hip-hop keep your feet going, or are cheesy 80s anthems that fuel your body and mind needs? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out our selection of running playlists to drive you onward.

Don’t like listening to music? There are other ways you can curate content for your marathon day. You can store up enough episodes of your favorite podcasts as a treat for you to enjoy on the journey. Or why not train with one of your classic audiobooks so you come to know which part of the story syncs with a particular stage of the marathon? So you know when Harry makes it to his first Quidditch match, you’re on the home stretch.


It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure. But remember, running a marathon is an incredible achievement and not something every person can do. Take time to appreciate your body, your training, and the opportunity to challenge yourself. Gratitude shifts your focus from the stress to the privilege of being on this journey.


Don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Let loose, sing your heart out (internally, if necessary), and savor the experience. After all, the marathon is a celebration of your hard work and dedication. So, rock your race, own your marathon journey, and have some fun while you’re at it.


Whatever your favorite tactic is, always remember that training your mind is just as important as training your body. With these mental strategies, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the marathon and cross that finish line feeling like a champion. Now go forth and conquer that marathon!


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