What Not to Think Before a Start of a Marathon

Posted: February 1, 2008 in marathon running

One of the most exciting long distance races I have watched is the Paul Tergat vs Haile Gebreselassie 10,000 metre final at 2000 Sydney Olympics games. Tergat was on his way to winning the race only for Gebreselassie to sprint the last 200 meters in a time of 21 sec and snatch victory at the crossing line. What Caused Paul Tergat to choke under pressure?

There are two rival theories – one states that anxiety is so distracting it stops performers from being able concentrate on what they’re doing. The other argues that anxiety causes the sportsman or woman to become overly conscious of their movements – skilled actions that had become automatic are made excruciatingly explicit, thus causing the athlete to regress to their standard as a novice.

Now in a new research, Daniel Gucciardi and James Dimmock have tested these rival theories with twenty experienced Australian golfers, who have handicaps ranging from 0 to 12. The golfers performed putts in three conditions – they either had to focus on three words that represented components of their technique (e.g. “arms”, “weight”, “head”); focus on three irrelevant words, for example three colours; or focus on just one word that summed up their putting action, such as “smooth”.

They did all this in a low anxiety context first, and then the whole thing was repeated with the pressure cranked up by the offer of cash rewards for the best performances. Would the anxiety of the high pressure context cause the golfers’ performance to deteriorate?

The added anxiety only caused the golfers’ performance to deteriorate when they were focusing on three words that represented components of their putting action. By contrast, their under-pressure performance actually improved slightly when they were thinking of irrelevant words or just one word that holistically represented their action.

These findings appear to support the idea that anxiety affects performance by causing people to think too much about their actions. At the start of marathon dont think too much about the race.


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