Running a marathon feels like a “big moment.” But what exactly contributes to the feeling of a “big moment” when it comes to performance? Our cognitive perception determines our own subjective interpretation, personal meaning-making, and subsequent emotions about race weekend and the marathon itself.
There are typically three psychological frameworks in which we see events that make them feel extraordinary. It’s these outlooks, or combination of mindsets, that give the occasion significance. As we prepare for a major event like a marathon, each of the following perceptions are usually present in some form, with one usually being the dominating factor. Understanding how you see the big event—and more importantly, what you do with these perceptions—goes a long way to ensure proper emotional management to get you to the starting line ready to crush your big race.
Any competition comes with a challenge: It could be the course, the distance, or the opportunity to set a PR. We seek these personal challenges for psychological growth and because we love to push our limits. We run far and fast because of the inherent challenge involved in marathon running, not despite of it.
Marathons embody a challenge framework in two ways: First, the requirement to earn a qualifying time (or being selected for a charity team, which is equally, if not more competitive than qualifying in its own right), and then in running the race itself. And the course is no walk in the park, as we all know. Think about the challenge of the distance, the course, and the potential conditions of the day.
What to Do: Embrace It and Connect to Excitement
In large part, the challenge is what makes the race special. Embrace everything there is about the experience and connect to the excitement you feel about the race. Experience the thrill of running with fellow athletes and realise they may be experiencing the same feelings as you. Remember, you’re here because you earned your spot, and you’ve successfully overcome numerous trials along the way. Being able to focus on excitement rather than anxiety, is an important sports psychology skill as we consider the second perceptual outlook: the potential for threat.
Essentially, there are two types of threat we experience as humans. The first is actual threat to your physical well-being, safety, or health. Something in the moment that may cause you real bodily harm or injury. This type of physical threat leads to fear.
The second type of threat, the perception that something may be potentially harmful (either physically or psychologically) without the actual presence of danger, is experienced by the body in much the same way as we process physical threat. But this type of threat is experienced as anxiety. Anxiety almost always starts in the mind with two tiny little words that, together, pack a major punch: What if?