The London Marathon will see serious runners who have physically trained for months to prepare for the legendary race, still fail to achieve the times they are capable of.
According to Julian Goater, a world-class runner and running coach, serious runners have to do more than just the physical training and must also prepare themselves psychologically and develop mental strength in order to succeed.
“All of us are physically capable of far greater feats than we think if only we can harness the power of the mind,” says Goater. “There are a number of things we can do to make ourselves mentally stronger and to give ourselves the best chances of being psychologically fit and aggressive on the day of the race.”
In his book, The Art of Running Faster, Goater and co-author Don Melvin offer eight tips for psychologically preparing for race day.
1. Build mental strength in training by making your targets demanding but achievable. And once you’ve set them, don’t disappoint yourself. Just get out there and do it.
2. Be organised before the race and give yourself plenty of time to avoid last-minute hassles that detract from your focus.
3. Go over in your mind what you want to accomplish. You should aim to be keyed up yet relaxed. And be flexible enough not to be thrown off stride if for some reason you’re unable to follow your normal pre-race routine.
4. If you’re suffering during the race, don’t show it. Looking bad encourages the other runners. And if you convince them you’re feeling OK, you might convince yourself, as well.
5. Don’t drop out of a race unless there’s really no other choice. It can become a habit. If you don’t think you’re well enough to race, don’t line up at the start.
6. Don’t let one particular rhythm lull you to sleep in a race. Practice breaking out of your rut and running faster when you need to.
7. Be fierce. Work to develop aggression whether you’re training with your friends or digging deep to get up the top of that impossibly muddy hill in a cross country race. It opens up a dimension of the sport that makes it much more fun and rewarding.
8. Tactically, make your move at the last possible moment that still suits your strengths. And when you make your move, be decisive and completely committed.
“To some extent, I don’t think your absolute peak psychological performance can be achieved intentionally,” Goater says. “The best we can do is learn about ourselves as individuals and try to create the conditions that will allow our motivation, relaxation, concentration, and determination to fully emerge on the day it matters most.”