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How Marathoners Celebrate World Mental Health Day

Marathoners remind us to train our minds for success.

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages people to celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10th.

This year, World Mental Health Day falls on the same day as the 43rd Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This was an especially important day because it marked 728 days since the 2019 event. In 2020, the organizers presented their first-ever Virtual Experience.

Thousands of in-person athletic events were canceled in 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these cancellations had a negative impact on athletes’ mental health. Multisport Research surveyed 4,340 athletes in key international endurance sports markets, including the U.S. and the U.K. Forty-seven percent of the athletes, who were surveyed, reported being worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their health and well-being, demonstrating a significant shift in the mental health of a population that frequently relies on sport and the motivation of a finish line to optimize their mental health and well-being.

With the return of in-person racing, athletes were encouraged to train their minds in addition to training their bodies. The theme of Your Chicago Start Line helped athletes reset their mindset not only for returning to the road but as a metaphor for returning to life after a global pandemic.

The Chicago Psyching Team, which I head, provided 18 weeks of brief and inspirational videos, along with a workbook, Mind Over Marathon, to provide athletes education related to marathon mental toughness training. Tips like visualizing success-enhanced goal setting, and remembering your why are examples of ways athletes can train their minds to keep them strong during endurance sports.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world, as it is an Abbott World Major. Other World Majors are London, Berlin, New York, Tokyo, and Boston. Those who aspire to be Six Star Marathoners had an additional challenge this season. This year, the Six Star events are held within weeks of each other. Some athletes are taking the extra challenge of competing in back-to-back marathons: The Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 10th and the John Hancock Boston Marathon on October 11th.

Runners from all over the world gathered in Grant Part to glide through 29 Chicago neighborhoods and entered this event for many different reasons. Some people entered for charity, some people registered for personal accomplishment, and others participated in honoring deceased loved ones. The event also has elite divisions for wheelchair racers, men’s division, and women’s division.

The top women’s finishers discussed their commitment to wellness and mental training during their press conferences. Their smiles and pride were inspiring to so many marathoners and marathon hopefuls.

The comments about this year’s events, especially from the Bank of American Chicago Marathon’s top women, help athletes remember that their mental well-being is as important as their physical training. Whatever your distances, successes, and challenges, remember that you are never alone. Marathoners cheer each other on virtually, on the road, in training, and in recovery; it is an individual sport celebrated in a group environment. Be a part of the celebration as you support your own well-being and the well-being of others.

Tatyana McFadden at the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Source: photo © 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon/Kevin Morris

Tatyana McFadden, first place wheelchair Women’s finisher, had a time of 1:48:57. She flew from Chicago to Boston immediately after the event to prepare to compete in Boston’s marathon in less than 24 hours. Her mental toughness is clear as she prepares to complete 52.4 back-to-back miles, in addition to achieving a Bronze medal in the Virgin Money London Marathon last week.

Ruth Chepgntich, first place Women’s finisher, 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Source: Dr. Michele Kerulis

Ruth Chepgntich, first place Women’s finisher from Kenya, was happy with her time of 2:22:31. When asked about her mental marathon, she stated, “I focused and believed in myself,” and “I pushed to see if I could win.” And win she did!

Emma Bates, second place Women's finisher, 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Source: Dr. Michele Kerulis

Emma Bates, second place Women’s finisher from the U.S., completed the event with a time of 2:24:20. Emma said training alone gave her the confidence to complete a successful race and that Chicago spectators gave her the energy to keep going. When asked about what her racing future holds, she mentioned that for today, she will focus on her Bank of America Chicago Marathon and soak in all that she accomplished today.

Sara Hall, third place Women's finisher, 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Source: Dr. Michele Kerulis

Sara Hall, third place Women’s finisher from the U.S., completed the marathon at 2:27:19. When asked what she plans to do with her future, she responded with a glorious smile and stated that she will go on vacation to Costa Rica with her family.

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