How to prepare for a marathon: It’s mind over matter

Running a marathon and all the preparation that goes into it needs a very determined mindset, according to Anna Kitchin, who has completed two London Marathons. And getting in the ‘zone’ is key too, as she explains.

For most of my school life I was never picked for any teams, because I was not great at sports. I don’t think my PE teachers were fans of mine. My father, however, was great at making sure I still tried out various sports - tennis, judo, taekwondo, horse-riding, swimming and even personal training - but not running - as I absolutely hated it and athletics was something I would always try to get out of.

But after changing schools at 16, I started running. Another girl and I would regularly participate in the races and this made me realise it wasn’t so bad after all.

Post A-Levels, at university, my love of fitness really took off; I carried on running after graduation (I became a teacher) and started completing longer distances - and really enjoyed it. Once I decided I would run the marathon, I began training around Richmond Park every weekend with a friend and I would run back home from work during the week, so I could improve my overall fitness and endurance.

There were certainly some days when I just wanted to stay in bed; putting on those extra layers during the winter months and running through the icy wind and rain, was not my idea of fun. But nevertheless, I pushed on and felt better for it.

For practice, we would enter loads of half-marathons around us. There was even one event when my friend thought I had passed out during the race, as I took so long!

Training for a marathon taught me that it is really a mind game - that it was very much a question of mind over matter. Your thoughts can dictate so much of what you do, even if you don’t always realise it.

My first marathon took 5 hrs 25 minutes, because my neck hurt and I saw all these ambulance stops and people getting “massages”, so at about mile 20, I decided it was my turn. My goal was primarily to cross the finish line and I didn’t care about my time. I had guys carrying me at the very end and that is what it is partly about - people encouraging others no matter what - team spirit.

Despite the struggle to finish this first race, it wasn’t the end of my marathon ‘career’. I was committed to running the London Marathon again the following year, and I had signed up with the charity sponsored by the school where I worked; many of the school’s parents and my friends had sponsored me, so I knew I couldn’t drop out, even if I had some doubts.

I had masses of support in the run-up to this marathon and was absolutely determined to do better this time. I didn’t stop the whole way and totally missed my friends who filmed themselves screaming for me, because I was so much in the zone. I completed it – without help - in 4hrs 25 minutes. A whopping 1 hour improvement on my previous time.

I don’t do much running these days as riding is my main sport. Running is a solo sport and so is horse-riding (well I guess there is the horse too) - but both sports teach you that your mind can be so negative, but also so positive and that it is your mind which affects the final result.

Being able to understand how you think and then to change it is hard, but actually rather easy once you have learnt how. It is about passing the threshold and realising that you can do it. Really do it.