Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



‘Psyching Team’ Provides Mental Boost to NYC Marathon Runners

About 50 professionals will be along the course helping runners.

Sometimes even the huge cheering crowds aren’t enough to boost the spirit of a struggling competitor in the New York City Marathon.

That’s when Dr. Ethan Gologor’s Psyching Team comes in.

Scattered throughout the 5-borough course on Nov. 1, about 50 mental health professionals will encourage and console individual runners during their toughest moments.

“Running 26.2 miles is not just about the legs, lungs and heart, but also the head,” says Gologor, the team’s captain since 2003 and a NYC Marathon finisher. Gologor is also chair of the psychology department at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Whether there’s a veteran runner battling pain or illness or a rookie marathoner dealing with self-doubt, Gologor’s team is prepared to jump in with a pep talk. Many ride the shuttle buses to the start and coach jittery runners before the race.

“Don’t try to get rid of all your anxiety,” Gologor says of one piece of advice he gives. “A little bit of anxiety actually motivates you more, but you don’t want to be overwhelmed.”

The Psyching Team, which was formed in the 1980s, is there “to enhance (runners’) marathon experience and help them achieve their goals,” says Emily Gallagher, a spokesperson for New York Road Runners.

These volunteers are required to attend a general orientation and then a specialized one for the Psyching Team, she says.

Though the team isn’t new to the New York City Marathon, Gologor acknowledges that many runners aren’t aware of it.

On race day, members will have a few signs and wear the same jackets as the medical crew.

“We keep a pretty low profile,” he says. “We just want to help the runners.”

The New York City Marathon isn’t the only running event that provides mental and emotional support.

The Toronto Marathon and Columbus Marathon and Half Marathon, for example, also have mental health professionals on hand. In addition to helping runners on race day, these volunteers offer mental preparation tips at the marathon expos.

Jennifer Lipack, a licensed social worker, had to postpone her New York City Marathon entry, so she joined the Psyching Team as a way to still participate.

The 34-year-old from Long Island knows all about the disappointment many runners face. She had secured a spot in the marathon, but chronic asthma and sinus problems have forced her to sit it out.

She hopes to get stationed near the end of the course, where she thinks runners will need the most support.

“If you have three miles left and you can’t finish for whatever reason, that’s the worst,” Lipack says. “This is a major marathon—the emotion to compete or achieve your goal is extremely high. To get into this marathon is very hard. You can’t always say, ‘There’s always next year.’”

When a runner falls short of a goal, it’s important to encourage that person to focus on the positives, she says.

“Remind them of the bigger picture,” she says. “They are present, and they were able to be part of it.”

RELATED: How ‘Perception of Effort’ Can Make or Break a Race

First-time participant Melissa Gibilaro, 35, says her biggest worry is not the final miles, but the start of the race across the Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn.

“I am nervous about mile one,” says the Staten Island resident. “Knowing that bridge is uphill for the first mile—that’s daunting to me.”

It’s comforting to know the Psyching Team will be on the course, Gibilaro says.

“During training when you have those long runs, your mind goes to deep, dark places. That’s bound to happen, too, during the race,” she says. “If there are people intentionally there keeping an eye out for runners to take you out of that place, that’s good. There are so many unknowns going into it.”

But the team is not just about lifting runners from dark moments — it’s also about reminding them to enjoy the experience.

“When they are lining up, we try to get to the front of the corrals on the (Verrazano) bridge and just give them some cheerleading,” Gologor says. “They appreciate it.”

RELATED: Competitor’s New York City Marathon Coverage