You've got the plan, ticking off the sessions and banking the miles and giving yourself the best possible chance to hit your goals... but are you really ready? You see you can be physically prepared but is your mind ready for what’s to come...
To start with let me tell you how I've come to personally realise how important your mindset is to achieve your goals. In 2019 I secured a championship place for London Marathon 2020 (we all know how that went down), this eventually took place in 2021 and through the whole training block I was playing with a niggle in my foot so much so this meant that most of my training was on the turbo trainer as I couldn’t spend that much time on my feet. Race day came and it was no surprise that my legs couldn’t stand up to what I wanted them to do, I mean I got round in a pretty respectable 3:13 for my first marathon but the pain was unbearable from mile 17/18 onwards. We go again....In 2022 I secured another London Marathon championship time, the body was good and the focus of this block was going into the race strong as I didn’t want to experience the same feeling again. I got on the start line, I was strong and training had gone well - I was in sub 3 shape. This time around the legs held up but I forgot to fuel - I just simply forgot (crazy right?) - I felt nauseous and didn’t have the mental capacity to stay in the game and I think it just through me off completely. I blacked out around mile 24 and then passed out over the finish line with low blood sugar - sub 3 didn’t happen however I did PB with 3:09. I mean it did take mental strength to get me to the end but I didn’t build up the mental currency in training to see me through to sub 3 although my physical fitness was there - the mindset wasn’t. Third time lucky... this time I’m taking on Manchester Marathon in April and the biggest focus for me here is mindset - you see I’ve got the physical plan and the physical strength but I want the mental game to match - this is what’s going to take me to sub 3 and beyond.
So what have I been doing and how can you implement this in your training going forward and then use it on race day. The key here is practice, practice, practice. Use your sessions to work on the mental game. Your mind likes familiarity and so the more you practice the easier it will be to use this on race day. Every time you build confidence and learn from a run its like putting a couple of quid in your confidence savings account. The more times you do this the more it compounds - you seek it out it becomes easier - you accrue confidence interest - bonus!
Here’s a few things I am focusing on in this block in sessions which will take you into race day mentally fit:
Break the session down, you do not need to think about the whole the session. Run the rep you are in - the mind can get comfortable with little chunks so for example if you have a 3 x 5k MRP session first of all start the with the warm up and then start psyching up for the first 5k towards the end of the warm up, now all you need to do is deal with is the first 5k. Your mind can cope with that - chances are you’ve ran a 5k quicker than marathon pace so it knows you can do this. Just focus on that first 5k. Then when the recovery comes focus on that. Then the next 5k and so on. You may need to Chuck further the longer you’re in the session. It might be that the third 5k is broken down into each k - the coach within you will need to talk to you louder in the third rep than the first and thats ok. This is also the same in a race scenario - break the distance down, with a HM I broke that down into 5ks and then after 15k I had to chunk even further to get through the last section.
This should be paired with chunking. This is something that people don’t do enough. At the end of each rep congratulate yourself! I do this every time, by congratulating you are building up the confidence currency I have mentioned above. By giving yourself a well done, you are reaffirming to you and your mind that you can do this. This compounds - trust me. It's giving the mind more and more evidence that you’ve got this. Again if chunking becomes smaller the harder it gets don’t forget to congratulate yourself after each small chunk.
3. Checking in with yourself
What feels good? There will be something - is it the legs, arms, the bouncy trainers etc regularly check in with yourself. This is really useful at the start when your mind might want to scream at you saying its too hard but if you really check in with the body at that time its likely that it feels ok. When we train and race its the body that needs to do the talking not your mind. These thoughts are just the mind panicking - NEVER HIT THE PANIC BUTTON so go back to the body and notice the positives. Not so long ago I really realised this in practice... I was running 2k reps and in the first few reps my head was saying its too fast but I kept checking in and realised that my body felt really strong - it was coping with the pacing, posture was good, legs strong, striding out - it just felt good and it was then that I really realised that sometimes its best to check in and listen to the body not the mind.
The last one I use is counting sometimes when we are digging in deep and grinding away, distracting the mind can really help. I count to 50 when it gets tough. At Barcelona HM a couple of weeks ago in the last few K I wanted a distraction so I started to count to 50. I remember getting to 35 and then the mind must have took over again but out of nowhere, it’s like the mind realised it had another job to do and was like ‘oh wait I’m counting 36…37…38 etc’. Distraction is a useful technique when its tough. The body maybe hurting at this point so checking in might not be enough but you can still chunk, congratulate and count! I actually came away from Barcelona with a 1 min 50s PB making sub 3 even more possible and whilst I'm really working away on being physically ready, using the above techniques really really helped me get there.
REMEMBER - CHUNKING, CHECKING, CONGRATULATING, COUNTING
Also note that nerves and adrenaline are normal and a good thing, you don’t want it to consume you but it’s good that it’s there to prepare you for what’s to come. The adrenaline will go a few minutes after you’ve started (it always goes and theres science to back this up) so just know it’s there but it will pass.
Work on your mental game in this training block, its never too late to give it a go. Start banking the confidence currency now to use on race day! Get on the start line physically and mentally ready to give yourself the best shot of PBing and hitting a milestone!
You've got this!