Hitting the wall during Sunday’s race? Not if Mitchell Greene and his team of bicycling psychologists have anything to do with it.
After all this training, still scared you’re going to fall apart at the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday? Don’t worry. You can just chat with actual psychologists peddling on bicycles along the course.
“Psychs on Bikes” — a team of local cycling psychologists — will be participating in the Philadelphia Marathon for the third year to help runners stay focused and reach their full potential. They’ll be offering guidance and support using common performance strategies — mindfulness, goal-setting, creating patterns, breaking the race into sections — in the hopes of creating an uplifting atmosphere before, during, and after the event.
Long-distance running offers numerous health benefits, but marathons can also be physically and mentally taxing. That’s why licensed psychologist Mitchell Greene — founder of Haverford-based practice Greenepsych Clinical & Sport Psychology and a marathon runner himself — felt it was important to implement psychology into the Philadelphia Marathon.
“Seeing a smiling face at some of the most difficult parts of the race or having someone telling you to keep pushing is something that may seem small but actually makes a huge impact on these runners’ spirits,” Greene says. “Sometimes, you need someone to tell you to keep going in order to discover what you are capable of.”
This year, there will be five designated Psychs on Bikes, including first-timer Ben Kenyon, the strength and conditioning coach of the Sixers. Look for the team spread out between mile 16 and mile 26, selected because they’re typical pressure points in the race where people might need extra support.
Greene, who leads the Philly Psych on Bikes crew, has worked with everyone from college athletes to Olympians and professional runners. He has been a Psych on a Bike for multiple triathlons and races in the past, and first implemented the program at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2019.
“It’s all good fun, and for a good reason,” he says. “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.’”
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,” Greene says. “We try to connect with those people who really appreciate it — especially towards the end of the marathon, when you can still physically do it, but your mind wants to quit.”
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 Psychs on Bikes use a variety of techniques tailored to each individual, but the main goal is to remind runners 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 they need to feel confident in order to perform well. But…these races are opportunities to be courageous. You don’t need to be confident to run a great race. You need to have courage.”
Look for the Psychs on Bikes at the full marathon this Sunday — they’ll be wearing bright green, so you really can’t miss them. And, of course, good luck to all the runners this weekend!
This post has been updated with relevant details since originally posting in 2019.