The Mental Side of Marathons: An Interview with Vicki Weitz

The Royal Mile. Photo: edinphoto.org.uk

The Royal Mile. Photo: edinphoto.org.uk

When researching marathon training, we hear a lot about running schedules, nutrition plans, avoiding injuries and the best clothing and shoes to wear. But what about the psychological training it takes to go the distance? We set out to discover more about the mental aspects of marathon running by speaking to someone who really understands the challenge inside and out.

During this year’s Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, Vicki Weitz undertook the monumental challenge of running 26 marathons in 26 days, up and down the crowded Royal Mile. The festival is the largest arts festival in the world, and Weitz, a performance artist, intended for her pursuit to be seen as art rather than a feat of sport.

We asked her more about her experience and how she overcame the physical and mental hurdles of her multimarathon undertaking.

What was your schedule on the morning of the marathons?

In the mornings I had to be extremely regimented. I woke up at 3:55am and weighed myself. Then I ate porridge with water and soy milk and put a banana and grapes on top with a glass of orange juice. I filled in my forms and recorded mood, sleep quality, urine and weight (I worked with the Human Performance Unit (HPU) from Essex University) and then had a protein shake before going back to sleep until 5:45 am. When the alarm went off I would get up, have a shower, get dressed and drink 300 ml of warm water.

After walking to the starting point, I’d have a quick stretch, chat to anyone who had come along that day, then say hello to the Palace Guards at the bottom of the Royal Mile. I’d then ask them to start me off – I found it important to have someone to say, “Go!” every day.

How did you recover and prepare for the next day after each marathon?

Immediately after finishing, I would stretch my muscles and walk the short distance home. I’d then have a cold bath for 10 minutes whilst drinking an optimum nutrition recovery shake and taking a shower. About an hour or so after finishing, I’d eat my main meal (usually chilli, chicken and vegetables or lamb chops and couscous) before the 15 minute walk to my daily physio appointment.

After walking home, I’d sort out my data for the day for HPU, making sure I’d had enough calories and logging my food and fluid intake. I’d also write my blog before preparing everything I needed for the next day.

Later I’d eat something light like a sandwich or toast and almond nut butter before using my foam roller to stretch some more. Each night I would unwind by reading or watching a comedy before going to bed at around 9 p.m.

How did you overcome distractions and stick to your routine?

My routine changed on day 15 when my children came up with my mum. My mum would help a lot by keeping them out of the house until about 7 p.m. and then bring them home so I had time to do everything I needed to do. I could then eat with them and spend some time chatting with them before bed, which helped me relax as well.

During the marathons you must have encountered varying factors such as crowd size, interaction with people and difficulty maintaining pace. How did you deal with aspects outside your control?

The first few days were very much about letting go. I very quickly lost the concept of time—it didn’t matter how long I was out for. It always felt the same. Normally time can make me quite anxious, so it was a relief that this melted away. Mainly I didn’t think about pacing. I just listened to my body and did what I could do at the time.

My running time turned out to be fairly consistent, but the amount of time I stopped for increased a lot. This was because more people would stop me to chat, but I was always happy to stop and chat as I felt that was intrinsic to the performance of the marathons.

I learned to accept what I couldn’t change: things like the traffic and the traffic lights and the crowds. I started to feel slightly removed from it all. I also began to enjoy running through the crowds — people would offer encouragement and support as I went by, or would run with me for a few meters, which boosted my spirits.

Interestingly, whilst I was letting go of physical factors outside of my control, my emotions also started to let go. I found that in the first week, I was doing a lot of grieving that I hadn’t realized needed to be done.

The whole performance must have been significantly draining both mentally and physically. What was your lowest point during the month, and how did you find the strength to carry on?

Leading up to the halfway point, the challenge became difficult emotionally. I went through a moment where I felt I wasn’t good enough. My running style had changed a lot, and I felt as if I looked broken. I had a really good cry, and my friend then ran with me, which helped to distract me.

Around this time, my sports psychologist came up to see me. He said I actually looked very comfortable, and if I looked this good on day 13 then I’d have no problem finishing. I was still a bit low, and he said to me that since I wasn’t a natural runner, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it—I just needed to get my head together and get the job done.

I resolved to make more of an effort to enjoy the experience—I didn’t want to waste it. I began to smile more and make eye contact with people, to look around me and think of things that make me happy. I also drew a lot of strength from the support I received from people back home as well as people talking to me on the day.

If you were to do it all over again, would there be any changes in your approach and preparation, either physical or mental?

On reflection, I feel it would have been good to have more physio before I started the challenge. My calves were always very tight, and I had a rotated pelvis that needed straightening most days, so more physio beforehand might have helped. Saying that, my aches and pains were much less than I expected them to be.

Finally – would you do it again?

Definitely!

Do you feel inspired by Vicki’s achievement? Get on track to your own success story; find out how to get started with marathon training and avoid running injuries with expert advice from Bupa.

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Guest Author Euan Taylor is a keen writer, blogger and occasional runner. Working with leading health organizations, Euan covers various topics focused around health and fitness.

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