Home > Boston or Bust

Boston or bust: I’m mastering my mental game before the marathon

Days before she tries for her BQ, this runner is working on the mental aspect

By: Tobias Wang

With less than a week until race day, the proverbial hay is in the barn.

All that’s left to do now is put my feet up and get my mind in check. To get started, I picked up the book How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald, which argues that an endurance athlete’s biggest performance hurdle is of the psychological variety. After reading numerous real-life examples illustrating his theory, I’m convinced. Do I think I can run a 3:30 marathon next Sunday to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon? Absolutely. But will my mind allow me to suffer through the discomfort that it’ll require? That’s the part I’m not sure about. So over the past few weeks, I’ve sought out some expert assistance.

RELATED: Boston or bust: Things were going perfectly until my injury crashed the party

First, I attended Calm in the Chaos, a free mindfulness and meditation session led by Dhani Oks at Lululemon’s men’s concept shop in Toronto, The Local. It began with a talk about how athletes use mindfulness to break preconceived barriers. Then, we moved into the meditation portion. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, my feet started to fall asleep. The tingles slowly moved up from my feet and into my ankles, until everything from my knees down was numb. It was all I could concentrate on. I redirected my thoughts to my upcoming marathon and the pain I’m likely to encounter and then it hit me: If I can’t sit still with tingly legs for 10 minutes, how can I possibly expect to run fast for 3.5 hours? So I sat, uncomfortable yet determined.

After that rather unsuccessful attempt at meditation, I gave Dhani a call for further guidance. He suggested starting with one-minute meditations, focusing on breath, and gradually working up to 10 minutes a day. Visualization, he said, is a more advanced technique. Here’s how it works: Picture a situation that was stressful in the past, face it head on without judgment and choose a more productive direction. Then, when I encounter a similar situation in the race, I’ll know how to handle it.


Next, I called mental performance coach Jennifer McChesney, who is part of the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon’s Psyching Team. She advised me to split the race into phases and give each phase its own goal. That way, I have an idea of exactly what’s going to happen—both physically and mentally—during those times. She reminded me that there are many variables on race day “but you’re trying to control as much as possible and be prepared for the tough moments, so that when they arise you don’t panic,” she said. One of her tips that really hit home was to avoid going into the day saying, “Let’s see what happens,” which is something I always do. “You have to decide how you want to feel that day,” she said.

From there, she encouraged me to practice pre-race relaxation, so that stress doesn’t drain my energy before I even start running. To maintain my effort throughout the race, she recommended the use of positive self-talk. Lastly, she reminded me to make sure I have a secondary goal—not to give myself an out, but so I won’t fall apart if things don’t go according to my Plan A.

READ MORE: Why I’m trying for Boston before a baby

READ MORE: Can a naturopath make me a better runner? 

Even before Jennifer mentioned it, I knew a trip to Erie to check out the course was going to give me my best shot at success. I headed there three weekends ago, for my longest run of this training cycle: 37K. My first loop around the scenic Presque Isle State Park felt never-ending. Yes, even sandy beaches and tree-lined pathways get old after a while. On the second loop, I noticed the intricacies of the route. I’ve stored them in my mind for race day. Now that I’ve done it once before, I have memories logged in my mind to distract myself during the marathon. During the test run, I got rained on, jumped puddles, got lost, hitched a ride, got rocked by the lake’s massive waves and celebrated over curly fries at the local diner. The pressure was off and I was just out there enjoying the process. Those are some positive thoughts.