The next, timing myself for each marker. If I am on time at 32 km the motivation to maintain my pace through each of those last 10 individual markers is very high. On the other hand, if these intermediate goals are not achieved, it means that I am having a bad day, and my subsequent goals in this race must be modified accordingly.
Of course, today’s runner has it very easy. When I ran my first marathons in the early 1970s, the only marker board we were likely to see was at 32 km. Thus, it was impossible to segment to the same degree as is now possible with marker boards placed every kilometer or mile, even in the ultramarathons. The mental agonies we endured because we had no such marker boards were enormous.
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The final essential mental rehearsal is to visualize the last section of the race and to visualize how to deal with what runners call “bad patches” (which Rus-hall, 1979, refers to as “dead spots”) and the very real fatigue that develops during races.
Dead spots occur when you lose mental control either because you have grown tired of concentrating on the same mental track or because a powerful distraction has suddenly appeared.
When you hit a dead spot, try to avoid panic and try to regain mental control as rapidly as possible. The best way to do this is to introduce positive selfstatements. My approach is to concentrate on the goals in the race I have already achieved; I remind myself how well I am doing and how proud I will be of my performance. If this fails, I think about some aspect of my work that is going well and is giving me pleasure.
The second problem is how to cope with the very real fatigue that occurs after 32 km in the standard marathon and, to a far worse degree, after 70 km in a short ultramarathon or after 120 km in a long ultramarathon.
The key is to prepare mentally for when the pain will begin. In the marathon, the pain begins to become a problem after about 28 km and in the ultramarathon after either 60 or 100 km. Thus, in your mental preparation you must imagine the feelings of increasing fatigue that you will experience and how these will affect you.
Another important mental tactic is to know that when the discomfort comes, it is at first worse on the uphills. I comfort myself by saying that the next downhill will allow me to recover. Because I already know the course, I know precisely when the next downhill section is due and so can more easily motivate myself to hang on just a little bit longer until the next downhill.
However, when the fatigue becomes all-embracing and running downhill is just as tiresome as running uphill, then you must confront the pain, accept it, and concentrate all your effort on not allowing the pain to slow you down. This is done by concentrating on your time through each successive kilometer. A technique I have found useful is to think only of getting to the next marker in a particular time. However tired I am, I can usually imagine getting to the next marker. With time, the individual kilometers add up, and finally I arrive within striking distance of the finish. Usually I know I am home when I get to within 4
Km of the finish. Once again, positive self-statements during this phase of the race are very helpful.
Having decided on a clear running strategy, you only have to convince yourself that it is possible.
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