Most people know that the idea of the marathon was born in ancient Greece. Some recall it had something to do with a battle, but few probably remember the conclusion of the story. Here it is: the courier Philippides, it is said, ran 26.2 miles from the site of the battle of Marathon back to Athens to announce the joyous news of the Athenians' victory over the Persians. He then promptly keeled over and died.
The point here is simple: for even the fleet footed, running for hours on end can be really, really unpleasant. But the truth is, it can also be a really good way to teach yourself mental toughness in the face of extreme challenges (I'm training for a half marathon at the moment, so that's what I'm telling myself at least).
But is there any way to get the best of both worlds -- to learn the secrets of exceptional grit without also suffering any near death experiences? According to a recent Quartz post by Katherine Ellen Foley there is. A dedicated distance runner herself, Foley insists that the secrets of marathoners can be taught to those who prefer to avoid anything more strenuous than a stroll around the block. Here are a few, in brief.
1. Chunk it.
Marathoners "have to reframe how we think about obstacles," writes Foley. "Rather than thinking about the entire project looming ahead, focus on the fact that it will end--and in the meantime, control smaller parts of it," she instructs.
In the context of running that may mean tamping down your rising panic and instead focusing on simply managing the next mile. In life, that might be putting aside the massiveness of the problem or project you're facing, and just focusing on the next chapter, protest, or task.
2. Expect (and accept) setbacks.
Marathoners know going in that some of the race is going to suck. You should follow their lead whenever you start out on a truly big project.
"It's also important to accept that in any long-term endeavor there will be setbacks along the way. You may develop a cramp that slows you down, miss a deadline, or simply fail to achieve a short-term goal altogether due to forces beyond your control. In these moments, you can't let your disappointment in one small failure break down your entire endeavor," explains Foley.
3. Focus on why you feel, not what you feel.
Ruminating on your discomfort and fear doesn't make it go away. Quite the opposite, actually. Marathoners' know that after acknowledging their emotions, it's best to move swiftly on to practical solutions.
"Once you've recognized how you feel, start focusing why you feel that way. Ask yourself what you can actually do to solve the problem in front of you, rather than indulging your anxiety further," Foley sensibly suggests.
These tips are only a small fraction of the wisdom on offer in Foley's piece, so check out the complete article for a lot more on the subject. Or have a look at what even more extreme athletes have to say about how they've cultivated extreme mental toughness.