This “Psych on a Bike” Wants to Help You Finish the Philadelphia Marathon

Hitting the wall at mile 21? Not if Mitchell Greene and his team of bicycling psychologists have anything to do with it.

Photo courtesy of Mitchell Greene / T-shirt design by Tim Gough with Dirty Hands Studio

After all this training, still scared you’re going to fall apart at the marathon on Sunday? Don’t worry. You can just chat with the actual psychologist helpfully peddling along on the bicycle next to you.

That’s right: for the first time ever, a team of eight to ten “Psychs on Bikes” will be on the Philadelphia Marathon course to help runners stay focused. They’ll be there offering guidance and support using common performance strategies — mindfulness, goal-setting, creating patterns, breaking the race into sections — to help runners finish their race.

Look for the Psych on a Bike team around mile 14 and mile 22, selected because they’re typical pressure points in the race where people might need extra support. “We’re going to be individually tailoring what’s needed, doing anything we can to encourage and inspire,” says Dr. Mitchell Greene, the official sport psychologist for the marathon, “Anything we can to help people reach their goal that they’ve been training to achieve for such a long time.”

In an athletic event as mentally grueling as a marathon, the idea of infusing psychotherapy mid-race makes good sense – which is probably why it’s catching on. The concept of “Psych on a Bike” has been popping up at more major races, like the Toronto Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon recently (The MCM called it a “Psyching” team.)

Greene, who is leading the Philly Psych on a Bike crew, has worked with everyone from college athletes to Olympians and professional runners in his Haverford-based practice, Greenepsych Clinical & Sport Psychology. And, he’s been a Psych on a Bike for multiple triathlons — though this is the first time he’s implementing the program at the Philadelphia Marathon.

“It’s all good fun, and for a good reason,” says Greene, “It’s extremely rewarding and humbling to help people reach their goals. It’s a vicarious thrill when someone after the race says to us, ‘You helped me get through that next mile when I thought I was gonna stop.'”

Photo by Colin Lenton

The bicycling psychs and therapists will help those who want help, and be cautious to stay out of the way of runners who don’t. “If we come across a person who doesn’t want to connect, we keep moving. We try to connect with those people who really appreciate it — especially towards the end of the marathon, when the mind wants to quit,” says Greene, who is also a runner and triathlete, “When you can still physically can do it, but your mind is saying no.”

And bikes help them be mobile and flexible enough to stay with those who need it — or meet them again down the path later in the race.

Greene explains that the Psych on a Bike team will use a variety of techniques, tailored to each individual. But he notes that, “Often it’s just about reminding people why they chose to run in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing this. I have this mantra that I use: ‘Courage over confidence.’ People think that they need to feel confident in order to perform well. But…these races are opportunities to be courageous — not a time to be thinking that you need something that you don’t have. You don’t need to be confident to run a great race. You need to have courage.”

We couldn’t agree more. All of our runners are brave as hell — and we can’t wait to cheer them on over 26.2 miles this weekend.

Want more information on the Philly Marathon’s new Psych on a Bike initiative, or Greene’s sport psychology practice? Get in touch with him here, and check out his talk at the Marathon Expo this weekend: he’ll be chatting “Mind Over Distance: Winning the Marathon’s Mental Game,” at 6p.m. on Friday Nov. 22nd and 12 p.m. on Saturday November 23rd.

Look for the Psych on a Bike team on the course this Sunday — they’ll be wearing bright green logo shirts so they’ll be easily identifiable. And, of course, good luck to all the runners!

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