Facing the Boston Marathon

June 1, 2017

"Why am I doing this to myself?"


Having reached the holy grail of qualification for the Boston Marathon the challenge of running it was becoming overwhelming for Grace. Training for any marathon is tough. It had been a lifelong ambition to qualify for Boston. An ambition that many runners can relate to, but, after a traumatic run at London the previous year, Grace was carrying a lot of mental stress.



Having qualified for Boston, Grace noticed what when she went to sign up for the race she didn't feel any excitement. While filling out the relevant forms for Boston memories of London came rushing back. Pain, arguments with her coach and a gruelling training regime. The training schedule for London pushed her so far that she was physically sick and to top things off stress fractures to her lower leg hampered her progress.


Grace was conflicted. She came to see me to explore why she had lost her love and passion for running. She wanted to enjoy Boston. She wanted to be grateful for the opportunity, but her most recent marathon experience had ended so badly. Instead of looking forward to fulfilling a life-time ambition, she was at a point where she was questioning making the journey there. She didn’t want to go to Boston and that was heart-breaking.


How could she get back to the passion and excitement that she had once experienced when dreaming of running the Boston marathon?  


How could she recover from here?


Sometimes sport psychology consultation begins like this. There is a strong feeling by a coach or an athlete that there is a problem with a person's mindset. That things are different than they were before and there is a desire to get back to a mental frame of mind that supports training and performance.


Following our initial discussion, some performance profiling and needs analysis Grace and I decided to focus on several areas of her psychological strength and conditioning.



Purpose and goals



Goal-setting seems easy but, in fact, is a detailed and intricate process that is ever changing in its nature. It seems so easy to set some goals and go out to try and reach them. Basing the process of goal-setting on elite endurance sport research evidence Grace and I worked in detail to expose a clear way forward. Connecting her to a sense of purpose was challenging considering the struggles that she had recently experienced but, in doing so, self-motivation was cultivated over time.  The reason that performance targets are far from being met can often be uncovered in the intricate, time consuming and downright “geeky” goal setting process.



Trust and control



Teaching people to believe in their training and to control the elements of their performance that they can control is a staple focus of sport psychology consultation. However, both elements are easy to say and hard to do. Challenging someone's trust often pulls on deep-routed core beliefs linked to the need to achieve. Sometimes trust can feel like caring less. It is the last feeling that aspiring performers expect to feel before they deliver an outstanding performance.



Strategic planning



No stone unturned. This is the perspective we took in planning the run. Planning for every eventuality from knowing the marathon route like it was your home neighbourhood to locating the ladies room pre-race. Minor details like what would she wear before, during and following the event were all important to plan and revealing psychologically. By visualising the fine details, we could identify and work through some real fears that Grace wasn't consciously aware of.



Through the process of working together Grace could put many small yet practical changes in place to support herself through long training hours and through race day. We can't claim that sport psychology worked any magic here but what we can report is that Grace's motivation and passion for running returned and she enjoyed the Boston marathon finishing with a personal best - an excellent achievement for Grace. 



Further Reading for psych geeks like me ...







Beaumont, C., Maynard, I. W., & Butt, J. (2015). Effective ways to develop and maintain robust sport-confidence: Strategies advocated by sport psychology consultants. Journal of applied sport psychology, 27(3), 301-318.


Brick, N. E., Campbell, M. J., Metcalfe, R. S., Mair, J. L., & Macintyre, T. E. (2016). Altering Pace Control and Pace Regulation: Attentional Focus Effects During Running. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc, 48, 879-886.

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