Postcode Your Marathon
The Virgin Money London Marathon runs through five of the eight London postcode areas. This gives us, as runners, a great feel for the size and vibrancy of this amazing city. It also gives us some helpful reminders as we run around London on Race Day of how to mentally approach each part.
SE = Supportive Environment
From the start of the marathon until you get into mile 12, you will be running through postcode area SE. It officially stands for South East. But think of it as standing for supportive environment. This is the time of the marathon when you still feel really good. You have lots of energy. You have not yet hit the painful parts. Make the most of this time. Enjoy it. Milk the environment around you for everything you can. Soak up everything you see around you; the music, the other runners, the noise and the atmosphere and the costumes. Use the crowds to push you along and soak up their energy.
Top tip to get the best supportive environment: Have your name printed on your top – it gives you thousands of supporters.
EC = Emotional Control
From miles 12-14 you are into EC territory, and it is here you really need to think about your emotional control. This is the time to really enjoy how much you’ve already achieved. But don’t forget to stay focused on what is coming up. As you go over Tower Bridge, the momentousness of the occasion can get to you and you may feel that lump in your throat or tears prickling the back of your eyes. Expect to feel that wobble and remind yourself this is the time to practice your emotional control. In your head, run through the strengths you have used to get this far and the strengths you will be using in the second half.
Top tip to maintain emotional control: Find a jar and every time you identify a strength (they can be physical or mental) in training, write it down on a small piece of paper and put it in your jar. Before the marathon, read through all your pieces of paper and remind yourself of the strengths you have.
E = Energy
Mile 14-22 is when most of us struggle. If you’ve run up to 20 miles in training you will start to hit new territory in this section. And for quite a lot of it you are running east, away from the Finish Line which mentally can be difficult. What is really important here is Energy Management, both mental and physical. This is the time to use your pre-planned tactics for how you will remain on track when you are energy depleted.
Top tip to maintain mental energy: Before the marathon think about your race preference; to focus or distract yourself. Devise a tactic to match your preference. If you like to focus regularly checking your pace or technique may help you. For those who prefer to be distracted then maybe count how many other runners you over take, or create a competition in your head for the funniest supporters’ banner.
WC = Wise and Calm
From mile 22 to 25 you are alongside the Thames. You are heading west and towards the Finish Line. You are now in WC land. West Central postcode. So when you see this on a street sign think about staying wise and calm. You will be energy depleted and it is hard to make good decisions in this state. It is in this section many people start to walk. Focus on sticking with your race plan. Don’t try to make decisions. Just follow your pre-prepared plan.
Top tip to remain wise and calm: Work out in advance the scenarios you fear most and devise a plan for what you would do if each one happens. It will help you feel in control and less flustered if bad luck does occur.
SW = Smile Widely
Once you are looking at Parliament you are into the final two kilometres of the race and into SW territory. When you see a SW sign remember to Smile Widely. There are two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, you deserve an amazing finishing photo so make sure you have a great big grin in it. Secondly, recent research from Noel Brick at Ulster Uni found that running economy was two per cent better when runners smiled. This is down to the idea that it relaxes your emotional state and reduces your perception of effort. That gives you a great difference in speed for not much effort.
Top tip to smile widely: Have one of your supporters in the last couple of miles of the marathon and get them to yell ‘smile’ at you when you go past. Knowing they are waiting for you will be a boost to keep you pushing and, even if you want to scream abuse at them for telling you to smile when you are so tired, they’ll be giving you a nice reminder you are almost finished.
Dr Josephine Perry is a sports and performance psychology consultant. To find out more, visit performanceinmind.co.uk