April 29, 2011

Getting into the marathon frame of mind

As I walked our dog Luka and his cousin Punky (my sister's dog who is staying with us for the week) on this stunningly beautiful spring morning through the Smoke Bluffs, my thoughts were, naturally, on Sunday's Vancouver marathon. It seems like a long time ago since I last ran a 42.195km race, I thought, before realizing that is because it has been more than a year.

Since 2005, I'd adopted the habit of racing two marathons a year. But in 2010, I did the Rotterdam marathon in April - and haven't run one since. Having run a 50-miler in August 2010 and a 100km in November 2010, it hadn't really felt like a long marathon break. 

But as I feel my excitement building these last few days before the Vancouver marathon, I am reminded of how much I love this particular distance. It also makes me realize how much I've missed running one in the past 12 months. It may have felt like a habit I'd gotten into, and needed a break from, and perhaps that is exactly why I am so much looking forward to Sunday's race.

I'm glad to experience the joy of anticipation and am taking good care to hold on to it. You don't want to be overexcited but you do want to enjoy that sense of exhilaration and of looking forward to doing something you love to do. 

This is it, you've trained hard, you know what pace you're going to start at, you've got your clothing, shoes and nutrition ready, have planned to collect or already picked up your race package, and organized your race morning travel plan.

Now it's very important to put yourself into the right frame of mind for race day. One of my training partners from the Squamish Titans Tuesday Runs mentioned he had a horrible Vancouver half marathon last year, and he believes it was mostly due to his mindset. He is in a much better place this year, both physically and mentally, and is excited to have a very different day this time around.

On race day, there will be many things we cannot control but we remain in charge of the most crucial one: our frame of mind. It's up to ourselves to arrive on the start line with a positive mindset, determination to give the best we have on the day, and to keep smiling when things get tough.

If you've never tried flashing a smile in the final third of a marathon, give it a try on Sunday - I guarantee you will get a boost of energy from it. Remind yourself to relax, to stay in the moment and to enjoy. Yes, it will be a challenge but that's the reason we choose to accept it in the first place.

I've often referred to Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott, one of my favourite books that proved a turning point for my mental approach to racing, as described in this excerpt from my own book A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km (published March 2011):

27: Because you learn to train your mind

In July 2003, I ran my third marathon at the Gold Coast in Australia. By then I'd been training and racing as a triathlete and completed two Ironmans which finish with a 42.2km run. The fastest I'd covered the marathon distance was as part of an Ironman, in 4:11. I was training more consistently under the guidance of a coach, had more race experience, so physically I'd improved since finishing the Sydney marathon two years earlier in 4:44. In the weeks before my third marathon, I began reading Running Within: A Guide to Mastering the Body-Mind-Spirit Connection for Ultimate Training and Racing by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott. Reading that book helped me better understand the mental approach to endurance racing. It explains the direct relationship between our mental dialogue and performance, recommending you use positive affirmations. The 2003 Gold Coast marathon was the first race in which I used a cue from Running Within, Relax and Achieve the Max, as a reminder to be calm and release any tension. “Learn to use a cue word during your performance as a stimulus for the relaxed state ... This will reinforce the connection between what your mind is saying to you and what your body is doing. As you say the cue word, feel the stillness spread throughout your body,” Lynch and Scott write. I ran that marathon in 3:24, an improvement of 47 minutes. No doubt my big PB was a result of my improved physical fitness but it was also due to gaining an understanding of how to train and use my mind. As endurance athletes it's important to learn to do that.

End of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km excerpt.

Before almost every marathon since, I read a few pages of Scott and Lynch's book. On Sunday again, I will use the cue Relax and Achieve the Max at some point in the race.

Another I liked, and used in the Vancouver Sun Run two weeks ago, is the mental image of pushing a treadmill band with your feet - this image, used to remind athletes to use their energy to go forward rather than into the ground by slapping feet hard on the pavement, was mentioned by the inspiring and knowledgeable Kristine Chambers on the TriBC Triathlon Community Coaching clinic I did last month in Whistler. I'll likely use this image again on Sunday.

Last night I was reading in Matt Fitzgerald's Run: the Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel, another book I highly recommend. He writes:

"Through evolution, our species developed an instinctual tendency to run harder when chasing or fleeing something outside ourselves, a tendency that remains with us, because while our environment has changed sigificantly since the birth of mankind, our DNA has changed little. So today we can, if we choose, manipulate this instinct to make a game of running faster by consciously trying to run faster against the clock."

Use your mind, and use it wisely, on race day - it's a crucial tool in the marathon!

Have a great race!


Lisa McLean said...

All the best Margreet! Am about to order all the books you recommend since I am attempting my first marathon at the Gold Coast in July. Enjoy Sunday. Loko forward to reading a report. Lisa xx

Margreet Dietz said...

Thanks Lisa! Hope that you're enjoying training for your first marathon - so exciting!