Nutriton + Mental Strategies for Your Marathon Training

Last night I had the absolute honour of joining forces with Blush Lane Organic Market & Run Calgary to host a group of athletes for a mix & mingle night. We explored how to prep the mind AND body for the upcoming Calgary Marathon.  In particular, I shared with the group how some foods & ways of eating, as well as mindfulness practices, can be fun & support their athletic performance before & during their race!

3 mental strategies before & during race day

1. MINDFUL RUNNING

With any run, it’s not only physical prep that’s important, but it’s also crucial to prep mentally for a challenging number of KMs. So, what does mental prep look like? We can call it focussing practice or mindfulness practice. Bringing these practices to your movement can help you create a healthier way to run that’s more enjoyable, & for many produces better results.

Ways to run mindfully:

  • Running in sync with your breath
  • Focus on foot strike or stride patterns
  • Draw awareness to the swinging of your arms forwards & backwards
  • Counting in your head

When I run, I alternate mindfulness practices. Many times I focus on my foot strike while repeating the mantra “kissing the earth with my feet”.

2. VISUALIZATION

Visualization can be a tool to help get you motivated for a training run, to prep you for the energy on race day morning, to seeing yourself crossing that finish line when you still have 10 km to go.

Visualization can be an especially useful tool for preparing for when you hit the infamous “wall” that comes with long distance races. Hitting the wall is basically about running out of energy. Your legs feel like concrete, breathing becomes laboured, stride turns into a shuffle. Negative thoughts flood the mind, & the compulsion to quit becomes overwhelming.

To psychologically prepare for the wall, runners need to:

  • Accept it is probably going to happen
  • Visualizing realistic scenarios before the race such as “what happens when I hit the wall?” or “what if it rains?” are key to success on the actual day itself.
  • Identify potential strategies to cope with these situations on race day. Consider physical coping efforts (supplementation or hydration), emotion-focused coping, social support, & cognitive strategies (self-talk or mental reframing).

3. SELF-TALK

Self-talk is a tool that can be supportive (& unsupportive!) in all aspects of our life — personal, professional, & athletic pursuits (like when you hit that infamous wall). Self talk refers to the “voice” in your head. Many studies have shown the majority of competitive marathon runners use self-talk during marathons. Runners report using a rich variety of motivational self-talk as well as spiritual self-talk & mantras.

Self-talk practices you can use in training & during your race:

  • Find a mantra. The Sanskrit word “mantra” literally means “instrument for thinking”. As such, short words or phrases can be used effectively to focus the mind. Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus can help direct your mind away from negative thoughts & toward a positive experience. To best manage self-talk, before the race, runners are encouraged to prepare multiple mantras tailored to various challenges. Examples:
    • To overcome inclines, use the words “hills are my friend”.
    • Towards the end of the race, say to yourself “think strong, be strong, finish strong”.
    • Throughout a training run or race, repeating the words “forward is forward”.
  • Listen to your inner compassion coach, not just your inner critic. Did you have a supportive coach, teacher, friend, or family member throughout your life who has been your cheerleader? Tap into their voice to hear what they’d say in response to the sometimes brutal things our inner critic has to say to us sometimes (again, when you hit that “wall”!).

3 eating & drinking TIPS for before race day

1. MINDFUL EATING

Mindful eating is a buzz word in the health field. Some think it’s meditation with food, but at it’s basic level it’s simply being present with your food, free of distractions, to let your mind enjoy the experience and break, & your body to better digest the food in a restful state.

To start a mindful eating practice:

  • Choose one snack or meal per day.
  • Tap into your senses. Look at, touch, smell, listen to, taste a snack or meal much like a toddler investigates their food.
  • Choose a time frame; you can practice mindful awareness for an entire snack or meal free of distractions like a computer, Phone, or TV, or for the first few bites.
  • Practice gratitude for your body for accepting the nutrition that gets you through your daily activities & training, as well as all those involved for making the food before you possible.

2. HEALTHY SNACKS ON THE GO

Have food ready for when you are on the go. You need to fuel yourself regularly (in nutriton psychology practices we recommend at least every 2-3 hours but more frequent or nutrient dense for times of intense training). Last night we  featured a trail mix bar & guests filled mason jars to take with them on their daily adventures.

Fun fact… one of the earliest written records of trail mix was in camping guides written by outdoorsman & American travel writer Horace Kephart circa 1910. His recipe included nuts, raisins, & chocolate. The intention of this trail mix was for it to be eaten while being active outdoors — perfect for runners! 

Build your own trail mix:

  • Choose your ingredients, considering the following:
    • Nuts (almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, pine nuts)
    • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, hemp seeds)
    • Dried fruit (apples, cherries, cranberries, goji berries, blueberries, strawberries, apricots, raisins, banana, figs, pineapple chunks, mango, dates)
    • Dried veggies (kale chips, dried beet chips, seaweed chips, wasabi peas, candied ginger)
    • Grains (cereal, pretzels, crackers, granola, popcorn, graham crackers, puffed rice, fish crackers, broken tortilla chips, sesame sticks)
    • Sweets (chocolate chips/chunks, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, cacao nibs, mini marshmallows, gummies, yogurt covered raisins or pretzels, chocolate covered coffee beans)
    • Savoury snacks (wasabi peas, dried ginger)
    • Spices & Herbs (dash of ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, garlic, sea salt, cardamom, chilli, curry mix, lucuma, cocoa, mesquite, rosemary)
  • Store in an airtight container such as a mason jar.
  • Keep in a dry cool place. If you have it in a vehicle or running stroller, be mindful if you have something like chocolate that could melt in warmer weather.

3. FERMENTED FOODS

Many athletes focus on their muscles as the key to their athletic performance, but the gut actually makes a pretty significant contribution to overall performance as well! Athletes often experience GI tract disturbances. These may appear in the form of gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, reflux, or just general abdominal pain & heartburn. While these symptoms can be experienced in a variety of sports, between 30 – 70% of endurance athletes like marathon runners are said to experience GI disorders!

Using fermented foods & probiotic supplements can not only improve gut health, but may also reduce muscle inflammation, &  improve your performance.

Ways to get fermented foods into the diet:

  • Go for real food first. Fermented foods encompass a wide range of different foods. You are probably aware of the more obvious categories such as dairy based yogurt. But others include kraut, kombucha, cultured cashew or almond dips and yogurts, kefir & more.
  • Consider supplementation. Consult with your health care provider about probiotic supplemements that you could integrate into your daily routine.

Thanks to all those who joined us this March for the marathon mix and mingle at Blush Lane. Stay tuned for more Calgary Marathon X Wholistic Health YYC events to come!