Stay Mentally Strong Through Your Marathon


Running a marathon is no easy task. While completing the 26.2 mile course can wear down the body, staying mentally sharp over 2-plus hours can be even more difficult. With training hitting its final stretch, it is important for runners to stay as strong mentally as possible.

Like the training it takes to complete the physical side of the marathon, it is important to practice the mental side as well. Sports psychologist and co-director of Chicago Center for Behavioral Medicine and Sport Psychology Sara Buxton said with mental practice a race can be completely changed. Buxton said it’s the mental side of things that pushes a runner through the final stages of the marathon, specifically the last 6 miles. That’s where everything becomes new to the average marathon runner and they need to rely on their mental strength, Buxton said.

To achieve that strength takes practice, Buxton said. Not only during training runs, but even in every-day life runners can work on their breathing patterns and help sharpen their focus. Combined with visualization these tricks help avoid mental exhaustion, which can derail any race. The difference between mental and physical tiredness comes from the source, Buxton said. When a runner is physically tired there is a feeling from the muscles and joints, where mental tiredness happens when runners start thinking about being done with the race and not wanting to run anymore.

“What you’re doing it for, who you’re doing it for, having that sort of gratifying experience gets you through the last 6 miles,” Buxton said.

It’s not just during the race that Buxton said it is important to have that support system. While a personal trainer or sports therapist is ideal, Buxton said that is not an option for many. However everyone should find someone who they can rely on as their second in command, Buxton said. That is the person the runner can go to during the ups and downs and even help them figure out what kind of an injury needs time to heal and what can be pushed through.

Buxton and her group at Chicago CBM have hands on experience with a number of sports. Growing up Buxton played field hockey and was an All-American at New Trier in lacrosse. Now as a sports psychologist she has worked with wrestlers, golfers, tennis players and cross country teams to name a few. She is also an endurance athlete herself, recently completing her first half Ironman. Her partner at Chicago CBM, Kristina Pecora is also an endurance athlete as well as a sports psychologist. Pekora is a marathon pacer for the Chicago Endurance Sports training group, both Pekora and Buxton have completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

For the last few years CARA runners have had the opportunity to work with the experts at Chicago CBM. In addition to being a sponsor of the training group, CARA members also get a 10% discount for sessions. Chicago CBM works both on an individual and group basis. For more information on Buxton and Chicago CBM, visit their website at