Pre-Marathon Psychology – Tip 1 – Stay Positive
It was the night before the marathon. I had spent a week trying to push out every negative thought, determined not to get nervous. Four people had tried to pop by bubble by telling me I was going to hit a wall. I found that to be really unhelpful advice to someone about to run their first marathon. After the second comment I told the other two people I did not want to hear about walls. and I told myself that every experience is different. They might have hit a wall, but that does not mean I will. Thankfully, I was getting tons of encouraging words to the effect of “the crowd will get you round” and “just get out there and soak it all up – its the best running experience in the world” and “Don’t worry about the time, get out there and have fun. You can do it!”. So all those words became my own personal mantra’s. I would repeat words of positivity over and over to banish any thoughts that would take me down to a place of self doubt. So don’t listen to the negative, unhelpful advice, and if necessary tell the person assertively that their comments are not working for you. They might think they are preparing you for the worst, but in doing so can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think strong you will perform strong.
Organisation is key – Tip 2 – Your kit is your armour
I trained all winter, in 3 episodes of snow, and minus temperatures and then
suddenly it was announced that April 22nd was going to be the hottest London Marathon on record. I had to rethink my clothing and ended up rushing around looking for a white long sleeved top last minute. My advice would be to prepare for any weather. Just a week before we were having snow. London marathon can be hit or miss. So get kit for both extremes of weather and train in them. Previous races had earned me blisters which I put down to cheap socks that were not suitable for longer runs. Invest in good quality socks. I have also come out of previous races with chaffing under the band of my sports bra and round the band of my tights. So on marathon day I smothered myself in Vaseline, literally from top to toe and came out without a blister. Also 2 days before do a kit lay. Some people do this the night before but if something is missing it is too late to go and buy it. Get everything out that you need and get your bag packed that will be going in the baggage. Oh and don’t forget to drink lots of water and carb load around 3 to 4 days before the actual race.
Trust in your training – Tip 3 – Believe in Yourself!
I had been using a heart rate training plan using the Lydiard method and at my peak spending around 8 hours on my feet running. My longest run pre-marathon was 15 miles and I was a little concerned that on the day I would struggle from mile 15 onward. But all my fellow running club runners, who had been training using the same technique assured me that my accumulated miles throughout the week would mean on the day I would be able to complete 26.2 miles without too much of a struggle. I trusted in them, in my training and in my own self belief that I could do it. If you have put in the training, even if it did not go as well as you wanted, you will be surprised at how your body will perform on the day. Your body has got you through the training so it will definitely get you through the big day.
Believe in your cause – Tip 4 – Affirm your intention?
The alarm went off at 5am on April 22nd 2018. The day I had been training for was finally here. It didn’t seem real. I had raised £16,000 for water wells in the Gambia with my charity Penny Appeal and this was my motivation throughout the training and part of my intention for this big day. I applied two Gambian
flag tattoo’s to my hands so I could look down and remind myself of why I was doing this if things got tough. I remembered that this was a personal challenge I had set myself. Throughout the training I had spent hours out on my own, with just my thoughts for company, and had got to know myself pretty well. I had thought about my life, where I have come from, where I am heading. Marathon training is a place of deep reflection. So whatever your cause – know that this is going to be a memory to treasure, a personal journey, that not every one around you will understand and only 1 % of the world’s population will ever achieve.
I met up with the rest of Penny Appeal runners before the race and we took
some pictures and then Noveen and I got ready to start together. Having her there while we were waiting to begin the race was great because it helped keep any last minute nerves at bay. There was a real sense of “we are in this together” even though we decided not to run together having Noveen by my side at the start line was really wonderful.
Slow and Steady Start – Tip 5 – Don’t go off to fast
So I kept my pace really slow at first. It was so tempting to speed up at times as there are a lot of runners going quite fast at the beginning. If we are not conscious of it, it is easy to get caught up and go faster. I was determined not to let that happen, having learnt from previous races that can make the second half a lot harder. The temptation is that there is so many miles to go that part of me wanted to go faster to get closer to the end but I trusted in my plan to take it as slow as possible to begin with. As soon as I hit the 10k mark I began to steadily increase very slightly. From mile 13 I went a little faster and kept up that pace almost to the end and was able to push myself much faster in the last few miles. Many of the people who had passed me in
the first half were now walking and in the last 6 miles especially it literally felt as though every one was walking except for me. Checking out my stats on the Virgin App a couple of days later proved this to me when I saw that I had surpassed almost 3000 runners and only 9 people had overtaken me in the second half. When I saw the stats I actually cried. Because at the time I was mustering up a lot of mental strength to keep going and weave through all the people without stopping myself. Visualise your tank and how much juice you have and save around 70% for it for 13 miles onwards. You will smash the second half if you do that.
Soak up the crowd – Tip 6 – Smile and wave
Everything people say about the crowd at London Marathon is true. They kept a smile on my face throughout with plenty of “Go Lynne” to spur me on. Smiling releases dopamine, the bodies natural painkiller, as well as endorphins and serotonin, all responsible for lowering heart rate and blood pressure and generally making us feel more happy and positive. So make eye contact with supporters from the crowd, say thank you, smile back and high 5 the kids. It made a massive difference to my race and kept motivation levels high. Marathons are every bit psychological as they are physical. If you want your body to work you need to power it with positive vibes. Having my friends and family in the crowd really helped me too. I looked forward to seeing them and wrote down on my hands which mile to expect them so if I felt like I was struggling I knew exactly where I had support. I know some runners did not have any one they knew in the crowd so if you are in a situation like that, make the most of the kindness of strangers that makes up the spirit of london. Also do not fall into the trap of relying on the crowd to get you around. There will be times when you lose the crowd and this is when you often see runners slow down or start walking. Ultimately, although we are running among thousands of runners, ultimately we are on our own and we need to talk ourselves through the race to get to the end.
Keep talking – Tip 7 – Positive Self Talk
Running a marathon is about bringing all the parts of ourselves together and staying mentally strong in gruelling circumstances. In the last 6 miles water stations were emptied out and there were no further deliveries. The temperature was soaring, runners were walking and were calling out “has anyone got any water”. I witnessed runners moving to the side to sit down, some were vomiting and paramedic stations were treating someone at every stop. To stay upbeat and determined in a situation like this was challenging. I drew from every part of my self that could give me strength and I used it to keep going. As people called out for water and members of the public were handing out drinks and ice lollies to strangers bought from their own pockets, it made things only more poignant as I remembered why I was doing all of this – to build water wells in the Gambia for communities with no access to clean water and for hundreds of individuals who have to collect and carry heavy water for miles every day. It just spurred me on. Also being a Muslim, I have fasted in Ramadan, in which the last 5 years have been during summer and have been trained to go long periods without water. Last year I had run a few races while fasting. This training put me in good psychological stead so that I was reassured that I could manage the last 6 miles without water if I needed to and while others were beginning to panic I knew that my hydration process had started throughout the week and I trusted in my fuelling, just as I do in Ramadan during the long days of fasting.
Seeing the finish – Tip 8 – Visualise your training runs
Seeing the finish does not have to start in the last 400 metres. I started seeing a different kind of finish line from mile 20. As I went under that red arch I told myself I was leaving my house and going on a training run. i visualised one of my out and back 12 mile runs and picked a half way point destination. I told myself I was just starting out a run to that place. This made me start going into a bit of a zone but really helped me to keep going. I saw my family at Mile 22 and they were a bit disappointed that I didn’t stop for long but at this point I felt I needed to just keep going. Everyone who saw me from mile 20 onwards said they couldnt believe I was going to fast. They had been tracking me on the app and were surprised I was keeping going at such a steady rate. To me, I was there on my training run, visualising the roads and pathways. I kept this up until I saw the 5k marker. Then I changed my visualisation tactic and I was suddenly finding myself at the start of my local parkrun. I ran on picturing running around the lake and the pathways I so regularly run on a Saturday morning. Really in the zone now, and barely acknowledging the crowd, I kept going until I saw the 1km marker.
In my local park there is a tree that is exactly 1km from my house. When I first started running I remember when I made it to that tree for the first time without stopping and how happy I felt. Whenever I am out running and I see that tree I am reminded of how far I have come. So seeing the 1km marker, I imagined myself in my local park by my tree and I knew I was on the home run. This was an amazing feeling and I was speeding up more and more. From that point on I felt like a was flying. As soon as I saw the 400m sign I looked up, came out of the zone and took in the fact that I was about to complete my first marathon, running as fast as I could, without any pain and feeling like i could even run a little more. I crossed that line with the greatest feeling of elation, self fulfilment and feeling completely and utterly whole. Every part of me, my inner child, my teenager, my adult and my future self all crossed that line together with the greatest sense of self achievement I have ever felt. Taking that medal, I knew I had earned it. And as I walked away from the volunteer who had just put it round my neck I thanked God and began to cry. I did it. With the help and support of family, friends, community and lots of self love I made it to the London Marathon and ran 26.2 miles and raised more than enough to build four water wells, meaning it was not just my life that has been changed, but thousands of others for generations to come. I truly believe this has been a life changing experience. I feel, if I can do this, I can do anything, with the help of God and supportive people around me.
As I crossed the line I remember saying to myself – I want to do this again. And I really do! This is my journey, and every one’s journey is individual, however, I hope you have benefited from this blog, or know someone who will. I am what I would describe as an average runner. I am not the fastest, nor the slowest but I love running, I love people and I love how the two come together.
Thank you to every one who was a part of my London Marathon story. Every donation helped me in my training and every kind word gave me strength.
Lynne Northcott aka Jogonhijabi
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