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Mental Preparation

Posted on April 10th, 2018 by

Just two weeks to go to the London Marathon. If you’re racing it you’re probably beginning to feel the nerves.  If so, that’s good. We want that excitement and nervous energy on race day. Here are some thoughts to get you mentally prepared.

Have a Plan: If you haven’t done so already use our pace calculator to check whether your goals are realistic and formulate your race day plan.

Part of your plan will be your pacing plan. Some possible suggestions are: stick with the pacers for a particular goal time; aim to arrive at half way 1-2 minutes ahead of goal pace to allow for a slight fade at the end of the race; pace it absolutely evenly throughout; go for a slight negative split (that is aim to do the last half slightly faster). Each of these options has their merits, so I’m not going to pick one for you. But what I will say is that you shouldn’t aim for more than 2 minutes ahead of goal pace at half way and you should go in with a plan. “Go out hard and see what happens” does not count as a pacing plan.

On race day you will be sorely tempted at two points to break the plan by going too fast. That’s at the start and half way. As in practically all races most people set off too fast. Let them shoot off, while you pace it right. If you’re starting further back at London, accept the reality that it’s going to be very crowded at the start. Don’t waste energy weaving and getting angry with other runners for being in your way. Take it easy and think of the big guy in front of you as a useful windbreak. The second moment when people decide to waste energy in London is half way. I find that everyone starts waving at the crowd and speeding up for no clear reason. Again, let everyone else zoom off. You will have caught them all up again by mile 15.

Another part of your plan will be your hydration and nutrition plan. A hydration plan perhaps isn’t such a big deal for London as there are very frequent water stops, but if you are relying on the Lucozade sport they hand out, you’ll need to know exactly when to expect it. In smaller marathons you may only get water once every 5K in which case you definitely want to be prepared. Your nutrition plan should start several days out from race day and will certainly include your race day breakfast and everything you plan to eat during the run. Do listen to your body, however: if your stomach starts complaining about the gels, stop eating them; drink if you’re thirsty; don’t take on excessive amounts of water.

Stay in the Moment: On race day, try to focus on where you are in the race right now. Are you running with good form? Are you following the blue racing line? Are you keeping to an even pace? It can help to run an occasional check on yourself asking how everything feels to make sure you are staying relaxed and comfortable. If you’ve been working on an area of your form, think about that but don’t try to force it. For example, I’ll be monitoring myself to try and keep my head up and avoid crossing my arms. Try not to think about that beer you’re going to have at the finish as you’ll find that distractions like that do actually slow you down a little as you lose focus.

A Mantra: A mantra is any phrase you can say to yourself to focus your mind. Go for something positive. Nike recommends “Just do it”, I like “I have found the line and its direction is known to me. Absolute trust keeps me going in the right direction” (Talking Heads – The Good Thing). You might also try counting. Paula Radcliffe would count to one hundred over and over again to help keep focus. I like to just count and see how high I get. My PB is over 8000.

Enjoy the Cheers: For me the two highlights of the London Marathon are the cheers from the Chasers cheering squad. You’ll get the cheers at about mile 13.5 and mile 22. I think they’re a huge psychological boost. The crowd will be cheering you the whole way too. Smile and look around you to take it all in. Enjoy the fact that all these people are out there supporting you and want you to succeed.

Positive Visualisation: As race day comes, you will find you dwell more and more upon the race ahead. Use this as an opportunity to mentally rehearse your race day plan. Visualize yourself running in controlled and comfortable manner from the start. Rehearse your mantras. Picture the crowd cheering you on. Picture yourself smiling as you take it in. Picture yourself staying focussed throughout and holding your form to the end.

This week’s training

To help you prepare your mind for race day, this week includes a marathon pace fartlek on Thursday and a hard Parkrun on Saturday.

The hard Parkrun is a practice for staying focussed andlooking at your form. If your training has been going well and you get a PB that’s a bonus, but you’ve been marathon training not 5K training so don’t worry too much about your time.

The marathon pace fartlek is a comfortable run where you run some of it at marathon pace as you feel. This run is about getting outside and just enjoying running without tiring yourself out. It’s about running comfortably, sticking to a sensible pace, looking around and having a nice time. There aren’t any more rules to the run than that, its all about doing the kind of running you enjoy as a reward for all that hard training.