Are you suffering from maranoia? – Marathon anxiety and how to beat it 

As marathon season comes around many Virtual Runners will be gearing up for their next big challenge.

Whether you’ve never run a marathon before or have dozens under your belt, it’s common to feel the fear in the weeks preceding a big race.

Marathons are one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, physical activities you can undertake and, as the big day gets closer and the training starts to taper, it’s not unusual to find your mind consumed with anxious thoughts.

What is maranoia? 


Maranoia is the term coined by runners to describe the anxiety and paranoia that can arise during the preparation for a marathon.

It’s a form of performance anxiety that can cause you to second-guess your training, your nutrition, and your overall preparedness for a race.

Even if you’ve stuck to a strict plan and are hitting all your targets, the ‘what ifs’ can begin to creep in, and are usually around one of four things: 


  • Fear of injury – “what if I have a horrible accident that means I can’t compete?” 
  • Fear of illness – “what if I get ill and can’t do it and all my training is wasted?” 
  • Fear of an accident – “what if I fall over on the route and break my leg/get trampled at the start/have a medical emergency half-way round?…” 
  • Fear of not achieving goals – “what if all this planning and preparation doesn’t pay off and I get a terrible time?” 


Causes of maranoia 


Ultimately, all these fears lead back to the same thing, the worry that you won’t be able to complete the course as planned and that you will feel like you’ve failed. 


Completing a marathon is a significant achievement, and the pressure to succeed can be intense. The fear of not finishing the race, or not meeting a personal goal, can lead to self-doubt and anxiety. 


Another cause can be the pressure to meet the expectations of others. While you may feel compelled to perform well for friends, family and others that may have sponsored you, remember that there is usually no one who is a harsher critic than yourself. Most people are simply full of admiration for your training and dedication, rather than focused on any specific target times or goals. 


Maranoia can also be caused simply by the intense physical demands of marathon training. Running long distances can take a toll on the body, and the fear of injury or illness can contribute to anxiety. 


Overcoming maranoia 

If you’re experiencing maranoia, there are several strategies you can use to overcome it: 


  • Focus on the process, not the outcome 

Shift your focus from the outcome of the race to the process of preparing for it. Focus on the things you can control and break it down into small steps.  

Look back at the progress you’ve made, rather than constantly focusing on what you still need to achieve and celebrate small victories along the way, such as running a new personal best, or completing a challenging training session. 


  • Set realistic goals 

Setting realistic goals can help reduce the pressure and anxiety. Set a goal that is within your reach based on your current fitness level and training progress. Remember, the goal of your first marathon should be to finish the race, not to break a record. 


  • Practice mindfulness 

Practicing mindfulness can be an effective way to reduce anxiety and increase focus during marathon training. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings. It can help you stay focused on your training and reduce the tendency to worry about the future. 


  • Find a support system 

Having a support system can be invaluable during marathon training. Surround yourself with people who encourage and support you, and who understand the challenges of preparing for a marathon. Join a running club or find a training partner who can hold you accountable and provide motivation.
You can always share any worries or concerns on the Virtual Runner Facebook page, where there will undoubtedly be others who have experienced the same thing and can offer their advice and support. 


  • Take care of your body 

Taking care of your body is essential during marathon training. Proper nutrition, hydration, and rest can help prevent injury and illness, and increase your overall well-being. Make sure you’re fuelling your body with healthy, nutrient-dense foods, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep. 


  • Have a plan for the day 

If you’re worried about the logistics of the day itself, make sure you have a thorough plan in place. Work out what time you will need to arrive at the race site, where you can leave bags, and where you will meet people when you finish.  

Build in plenty of extra time to your journey to allow for any unforeseen events. Give yourself enough time to eat a proper breakfast without rushing, and make sure you factor in any toilet stops that might be needed!


Rest assured, that if you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming race, you are not alone.  Maranoia is a common experience for runners preparing for a marathon, but it doesn’t have to be a debilitating one. By focusing on the process, celebrating your achievements along the way and creating a plan for race day you can minimise the stress and maximise your enjoyment.