If you're going for your best marathon yet, this Olympian has advice. Use her mental tricks to get to the finish line fast.
Signing up for a race is an instant commitment to training and the goal of crossing a finish line. What if you also are ready to tackle your fastest time ever? You’ll need confidence in yourself, your training, and your ability to find your speed when you’re hurting out on the course.
Molly Huddle, 35, is the American record holder for the 10,000 meters (30:13.17) and the half marathon (1:07:25). In April she ran her fastest 26.2 miles at the London Marathon, finishing in 2:26:33. In other words, she’s no stranger to going after those big personal records. So we asked her to share her best tips for pulling off the PRs, even when doubt creeps in.
At the starting line, view your fellow runners as pacers.
“It’s kind of a sports psychology trick to reframe the race as a challenge or something positive, instead of a threat,” Huddle says. This rings particularly true when you line up next to people you perceive as faster.
Rather than thinking about how everyone will pass you, focus on how nice it is to have someone next to you, helping push forward. Instead of focusing on how much it’s going to hurt or if the pack around you is going to drop you, comfort yourself by thinking how much harder the effort would be by yourself.
“It’s better with the women here and if they’re pushing hard, you’re going to get the best out of yourself,” says Huddle, who is based in Providence, Rhode Island. “I think of it like that and it really does help not only calm me down but get me excited to get out there and see what my best is that day.”
Don’t let adrenaline get the best of you.
When the gun goes off, we all know how tempting it is to go out blazing, especially in the marathon.
“The way you get the most out of yourself for the marathon is such a slow boil. You have to patiently ride that goal pace,” Huddle says. “Especially [at the New York City Marathon], the first 10 miles are through Brooklyn and it’s the loudest, craziest part and you just you want to start sprinting.”
Instead, find your stride, get in the grind you know you can sustain based on your training, and stick to it.
“You have to calm down. So, there’s a lot of emotional control,” Huddle says.
When you start doubting yourself, remember your marathon training.
When your confidence starts faltering, Huddle recommends you call on all the long training runs you did and how you felt during them.
“[I think about] how that’s proof that you’re prepared for the marathon,” she says.
She’s kept a training journal since her senior year of high school, which she reads through before a big race.
“Maybe a night or two before, I look at it to remind myself of the work I’ve done and that I’ve done enough work,” Huddle says.
Relax in the first half—it should feel easy.
Sometimes the first 13.1 miles feels like a jog and other times a reasonable pace is uncomfortable. That’s when you have to make a judgement call. The only pace goals Huddle focuses on during the first 10 miles of the marathon involved not exceeding the speed she committed to in her race planning.
“You have to go with what you’re feeling a little bit. Just measure your energy really wisely,” Huddle says.
In the marathon, being off your pace by even a few seconds every mile can really add up to difficulties in the later stages.
“We try to be really precise with it,” she says.
Figure out how fast you want to run each mile and stick with it the best you can.
During the final 10K, it’s time to open your marathon mental toolbox.
The last six miles of the marathon are hard for everybody—even the professionals. That’s when Huddle really draws on mental tricks like reaching landmarks ahead or using fuel stops at checkpoints.
“I like to just say, ‘Get to the next bottle, get to the next bottle.’ And that gives me something short-term to focus on,” she says.
Also, let your mind wander to the big picture.
“Think about something that’s driving you,” Huddle says. “If it’s the time on the clock and you’re within your goal range, then use that as motivation. If it’s a great cause you have in the back of your mind, then dig for that those last three miles.”
No matter what keeps you going, use it to your advantage. Huddle has used everything from a first-time marathon medal at the 2016 New York City Marathon, when she placed third, to an Olympic qualifying time, to her honoring her uncle’s death and a charity drive for Project Purple (supporting research for pancreatic cancer) to keep her motivation high.
“It’s normal at some point in a race to be overwhelmed with how uncomfortable it is. I think everyone feels that at some point,” Huddle adds. “And I think it wastes energy to fight those thoughts and sometimes the harder you try not to think negatively, the more you end up thinking negative thoughts. So I just don’t give them weight.”
We all get to a point when we’d just like to stop. Huddle lets that feeling pass.
“I just let that flow out the other side [of my head], because of course I’m not going to end up stopping,” she says. “So, it’s just a thought that crops up. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Don’t let that negativity hold you back. After all, your PR is waiting.