1. Thorough preparation.
Put in as much work as you can beforehand so that you have a real familiarity with the event. People turn up for the London Marathon and don’t realise they may have to wait 20 minutes before they cross the start line which can set you back before you've even got going. Have as much knowledge as possible about what the event is going to entail and see as much of the course as you can beforehand.
2. Support strategy.
Again this is all about preparation. If you've got family and friends coming to support you then think strategically about where they'll make the biggest difference. For example Holiday Inn, who I've worked with, set up an area for family and friends in the Berlin Marathon at around the 18-mile mark because that’s the point where people start hitting the wall. It's all about using the crowd to lift you.
3. Positive body language.
It’s really important to leave any doubt or negativity behind. You want to think in terms of things you can control. Try and run with your head up. Even putting a smile on your face makes a difference as it releases chemicals into your brain and makes you feel better. Whereas when your head drops it tends to become more internal. So if you are looking down at the ground then you tend to talk to yourself a lot more. By keeping your eyes up, you tend to actually feel less pain. You still feel it, but not as much.
4. Control your inner voice.
What we don’t often realise is that we’re in control of the voice in our heads. The voice will tend to start talking in negatives so it’s really important that we use our inner voice like a really good coach and use it to pick ourselves up rather than the other way round.
5. Break the race down into stages.
Don't focus on the 26 miles or 10km or whatever your race distance is, Instead take it one mile or kilometre at a time. Or break it down further than that if necessary - it might be every 100 yards, or to the next lamp post. You’re not thinking about the end point, but just each stage.
Focus on the lamp posts, not the mile markers
6. Stay in the present
People talk about being ‘in the zone’ and the zone only exists in the present. We tend to perform much better when we focus on that. It could be you just focus on your breathing. Or the person in front of you. And by cutting your goals down into really small chunks you’re already keeping yourself much more in the present state
. Whereas if you’re at the 15-mile mark in a marathon and you think ‘oh no, I’ve got 11 miles still to go’ then you are out of the zone immediately.
7. Run your own race
It’s really important to set your own rhythm, whether it’s running, cycling or whatever. Make sure you’ve worked out the pace schedule you need to go at to achieve the time you’ve targetted. If you maintain your energy early on, you’ll be passing lots of people later on. Conversely if you go off too fast - which is a classic mistake - and end up running other people’s races then you end up being the one who is passed by lots of others.
8. Always have another goal
It can be dangerous just to aim for one race and have nothing the other side of it because you can get a very empty feeling afterwards. So even if you only want to run a marathon once, you still need something to aim for afterwards so that it isn’t the end point. You may want to go further and do an ultra, or you may want to do a half marathon. Or go from running to triathlon. But always see that first event as another stepping stone onto another bigger goal. Then you actually feel it’s just the beginning. By all means give yourself a break for a week or so but then start again with the next aim and think about the reasons you are doing it – the long-term strategy and gains.
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Andy Barton is one of the UK's leading mental performance coaches working with sports performers at all levels. His clients include, among others, Premier League and international footballers and rugby players, European Tour golfers, world level equestrians, Olympic athletes and world medallists. He also enjoys working with keen amateurs and is one of the mind and body experts for Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts, the official hotel partner of the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Andy provides one on one consultations
at his practices in Central London and Stamford, Lincolnshire.
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