The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part four: Psychology

The final post in this mini-series is all about the head.

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Race day can be stressful and whilst I think that a degree of nerves can be a good thing, I want to keep it under control. And control is what I focus on. Control the things you can and don’t worry about the rest.

Getting prepared

I make sure my race day kit is washed, checked and packed days before the race. I pack spares of everything. I write a list of things I will need on the day – tape, Vaseline, Bodyglide, plasters, pins, something to eat and drink in the hours before the race, etc. Getting all that stuff organised on the Thursday before a Sunday race means less stress closer to the time. I figure out how I will get to the race days before the big day.

In the days before the race I spend time visualising the race. This year I am racing the London marathon, which I know well, so that makes the visualisation even easier. I know what it will feel like to cross Tower Bridge just before half way – look left and see the Mornington Chasers cheering station on the far side of the road. Pass the half way mark and check my watch (more on that in a minute) then focus on the Isle of Dogs. After that Canary Wharf where the crowds are immense. On the way beck west, there will be the 20 mile mark, which is an important point for me (again, more on that in a minute). Then the fun really starts.

Highlights of the race

First the RunDemCrew cheering station at mile 21’ish – a wonderful, life affirming sight and a huge emotional boost. The RunDemCrew means a huge amount to me and my running and to see them there yelling and waving will be amazing.

Then the Mornington Chasers just after mile 22. This is my club and they are all runners who know what it means to be at that point in a race. There will be people there who have played big parts in helping me achieve what I have and I can’t wait to see them and hear the  shouts.

After that, it is a parade of wonderful sights and sounds – the Blackfriars underpass, which feels a bit like a re-birth when you emerge onto the Embankment. Seeing the Houses of Parliament. Turning into Birdcage walk… the turn onto the Mall and the finish line.

Race tactics

As far as tactics for the race are concerned, I like to control the things I can, such as my target pace, as much as possible. So here is what I am planning –

  • Reach the half way point in around 79 minutes – that is five minutes slower than I finished the Cambridge Half Marathon, in the freezing cold and snow in the middle of a heavy training period. That should feel manageable.
  • Keep that pace going for another seven miles.
  • Then at mile 20, have a stern word with myself and start to race the person in front. Slowly, slowly start to increase the pace. 10km is all I have to run at this point and I can afford to dial up the effort one click at a time, working on catching the person in front and then the next one and then the next one…
  • All the way to the finish: if my plan comes together and I manage to dial up the pace from 20 miles then I should manage a PB (currently 2:38:30) which will be a very pleasing result.

There are many ways to approach a marathon. But from a psychological point of view, I think that breaking the race down into manageable chunks – 13.1 miles slower than you know you can manage, another 7 at that pace and then 6 miles as fast as you can manage – makes the marathon feel less daunting. And I believe you should visualise the things that you are going to look forward to so that you enjoy the journey. After all, enjoyment is the reason we run, so the marathon should be the pinnacle of that enjoyment.

Final thoughts

I really think that running is woven into our DNA. I don’t care to debate whether we should wear shoes or not. Or whether we should run 100m or 100 miles. I just know that when I run, I feel fantastic. You only have to watch children do what they love doing, to know that running is one of the most natural things we do.

I have decided to pit myself against the classic distance of 26.2 miles and I hope that I can motivate others to do the same. If you are doing the same, I hope that the last few blog posts have been though provoking and/or useful. Most of all, I hope you have a great race and do yourself proud. And remember, keep it simple…

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About simon

I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that.

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