How Hypnotherapy Helped 2 Marathon Runners Achieve Personal Best Times

How Hypnotherapy Helped 2 Marathon Runners Achieve Personal Best Times

How Hypnotherapy Helped Two Marathon Runners Achieve Personal Best Times

Over the years, I’ve worked with many marathon runners of all ages and abilities. Generally speaking, the work we’ve done together has proved helpful to the runners and most have achieved their goals, which have ranged from completing a marathon (regardless of the time) to achieving a sub 3 hour performance. 

Two case studies spring to mind. I’ve referred to them as Jane and Barry, but, of course, these aren’t their real names. Both were experienced runners, who’d trained hard, followed a programme and worked with a coach. 

Jane’s goal was to finish in less than 5 hours, whilst Barry was desperate to break the 3 hour barrier. With their permission, I spoke to their coaches who confirmed that both targets were achievable. 

Jane’s coach advised that her training performances indicated that she should be able to ‘smash’ 5 hours and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t already done it. 

Barry’s coach sounded a word of warning. He felt that as Barry’s best time to date was 3 hours 16 minutes, it might be too much to expect a 16 minute improvement in one race. He thought that an 8-10 minutes improvement was possible in Barry’s next marathon, but that a sub 3 hour time might take 2 or 3 more races. 

When I spoke to Jane, it was clear that she loved running, but didn’t like races. There were 2 key psychological issues that were affecting her performance:

  1. Pessimistic outlook
  2. GPS watch

Despite all her excellent training times and the opinion of her coach, it seemed to me that Jane didn’t fully believe that she would achieve her goal. There had been several previous marathons where training performances had suggested that a sub 5 hour time was likely, but on each occasion her race time had been very disappointing. When I probed deeper to find out what had happened in the previous races, the same incident was recounted. Jane used a GPS watch to monitor her times. Early during each previous race, when she’d looked at her watch, her race time was slower than both her training times and her race schedule time. When she realised that she was behind schedule, her confidence plummeted and she became disheartened.

The strategy for Jane involved:

  • Carefully worded affirmations that reinforced her experience, training commitment and excellent practice times
  • A hypnosis visualisation technique that allowed her to ‘see’ herself running well during a race situation
  • Not using the GPS during the marathon race

Jane was happy to use the affirmations because she accepted they were true and found them reassuring and motivating. She enjoyed the hypnosis visualisation technique which she found both relaxing and motivating. However, she initially resisted the suggestion not to use the GPS watch during the race. Eventually, we compromised and Jane agreed not to wear the watch, but to carry it in a belt pocket. 

Jane resisted the temptation to look at her GPS watch during her marathon and trusted her instinct and training. As her coach had always predicted, Jane ‘smashed’ her target finishing in 4 hours 42 minutes. 

When I spoke to Barry, it was clear that self-created pressure was affecting his performance. There were 2 issues in particular:

  1. Self-talk
  2. ‘All or nothing’ goal

When discussing his sub 3 hour target, Barry constantly used phrases like:

  • ‘I have to do it’
  • ‘I’ve got to do it’
  • ‘Failure is not an option’

The problem with this kind of talk is that it creates huge pressure. When we say to ourselves ‘I’ve got to do something’, subconsciously, the phrase is followed by unhelpful thoughts of alternative outcomes, for example:


  • ‘I must achieve a sub 3 hour marathon time’

Unhelpful subconscious thoughts that may follow 

  • ‘If I don’t, all my training time will have been wasted’
  • ‘If I don’t, my coach will think I’m a failure’
  • ‘If I don’t it means I’m a useless runner’

So, instead of motivating ourselves we actually do the opposite.

Barry’s strategy involved: 

  1. Rephrasing his self-talk to remove pressure and unhelpful subconscious thoughts
  2. Reframing his goal to allow for a range of successful outcomes
  3. Mutually developed affirmations that reinforced his experience and ability
  4. A hypnosis visualisation technique that allowed him to ‘see’ himself running well during a race situation

After much discussion, Barry was persuaded to rephrase his self-talk about his goal. So a sub 3 hour time was something he’d like to achieve because it would be a nice outcome that would make him happy. He also accepted that there were circumstances beyond his control that could affect performance. These included; the weather, illness, an accident etc.

Barry was also persuaded to accept that ‘success’ wasn’t black or white, but involved shades of grey. So, his goal was broken down into 3 levels all of which were regarded as successful:

  1. Sub 3 hours (ideal)
  2. Between 3 hours 5 minutes and 3 hours 10 minutes (very good)
  3. Anything under his previous best time of 3 hours 16 minutes (an acceptable achievement)

Barry enjoyed helping draft the affirmations and, like, Jane found the visualisation technique relaxing and motivating. Shortly before his race, he also mentioned that just before several previous marathons he’d developed a cold. He now believed that his previous ‘demanding’ self-talk had created stress, which in turn had weakened his immune system and allowed the cold to develop.

So how did he do? Unfortunately he didn’t achieve a sub 3 hour time (he did later in the year), but he did knock 10 minutes off his previous best and was very pleased with this outcome. He also said that for the first time, he really enjoyed the occasion.

Jane and Barry had 3 hypnotherapy sessions each and listened to relaxation recordings (which I provided) in between sessions.