How to Find the Right Mental Motivation to Run Your First Marathon

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Are you training for the right reasons?  A study by Jacob M. Havenar PhD reveals the right and wrong reasons for wanting to run a marathon.

motivationsignAccording to the study, 106 people embarked on a 20 week marathon training program for the first time.  When it was over, 31 completed the training and finished their first marathon successfully.  But 75 people dropped out before week 10 of the program.  

The difference between the finishers and the quitters was their differing mental motivational factors

Here are the right motivational factors for running a marathon

The particiapants of the study gave the following reasons for wanting to run a marathon:

  1. To live a health lifestyle
  2. To lose weight
  3. To achieve a personal goal
  4. Because they enjoy competition
  5. To get personal recognition
  6. Because their friends were doing it (affiliation)
  7. To help with psychological coping
  8. To find new meaning in life
  9. To improve self esteem

Two of these factors were found to be not good enough to carry the participant through his/her training.

Of those who didn’t successfully complete the training it was found that their motivation was often a desire for weight loss and personal recognition.  The intensity of completing a marathon requires greater motivation than losing weight and having a certain status. 

  • Healthy lifestyle: Those people who are oriented toward healthy active living and intense physical challenges can take on a marathon as part of their overall lifestyle design.  The commitment required to train for a marathon will require you to focus on healthy lifestyle choices like: eating a healthy diet, lots of exercise, getting enough sleep, drinking water, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption.
  • Goal achievement: setting your mind to achieving goals is a very powerful motivational factor.  John Hanc said, “I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement.  It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”  You have to believe that you can achieve your goals.
  • Competition: To cross the finish line in a marathon is going to require finding your inner competitor.  You are certainly not running to merely beat other runners, you are running against yourself.  You have to push past the limits you’ve set for yourself in the past and reach to achieve new accomplishments. Arthur Blank said, “I run because it’s so symbolic of life.  You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles.  You might feel that you can’t.  But then you find your inner strength and realize you’re capable of so much more than you thought.”
  • Affiliation: I have met some wonderful people while pursuing my running goals.  It is important to have like-minded fitness friends who are going to encourage and challenge you.  We often become like the people we spend time around.  If we surround ourselves with positive, healthy people we are more likely to achieve that too.  “Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week.  It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners too.”  Richard O’Brien.
  • Psychological coping: each person struggles to some extent with self-doubt and depression.  Running and training for a marathon is a powerful tool to elevating your mood, giving you a chance to think, and blow off stress.  Part of preparing your mind for the work of running a marathon involves visualizing success, affirming yourself with positive thoughts, and blocking the negative by focusing on positive statements.  Many runners can attest to a mental clarity that they get during a run which often lasts for hours.
  • Life meaning: each person comes to a point where they question the meaning of their life.  Some people feel stuck in a job, a relationship, or in unhealthy lifestyle patterns.  Taking on a new challenge can be a great way to break out of old, destructive patterns and figure out if they are where they want to be in life.  I truly believe that running a marathon will change your life.  Of course it’s not just the act of participating in the race that will do the changing.  The process of training, pushing yourself, breaking down barriers and finding a person you didn’t know existed within is what does the changing.  “If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now.  Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.”  Priscilla Welch.
  • Self-Esteem: completing a marathon will do wonders for your self-esteem.  Suddenly you will believe that anything is possible.  You will look back over the difficult process of training and know that you are a winner.  Running great Steve Prefontaine said, “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there.  Over the years I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started.  It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”  You will be inspired to take on new challenges and set higher goals for yourself.  You will realize that you are capable of overcoming any challenge that life throws your way.

You need to tap into the motivational factor that resonates with you and use that motivation to get you through the intense training necessary to cross the finish line. 

Never doubt that you can finish a marathon.  In the process you will discover things about yourself and change your life for the better.  Everyone who crosses the finish line is a winner and the accomplishment will carry you through other challenges in life.

What do you think?  Tell us which of these factors best describes your reason for running and exercise.

3 Responses to How to Find the Right Mental Motivation to Run Your First Marathon

  1. Thomas March 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Hey, thanks for the great info. I am hoping to run a half marathon in the future and and can definately use more motivation.

    • Trevor March 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. We always enjoy getting feedback from listeners and readers.

  2. Trevor April 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Thanks Emt . . . your comment was accidently caught by our spam filter so it did not immediately appear.

    Good luck on your marathon training!

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