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September 29, 2010

Brett Gotcher – A Pro’s Perspective on Mental Approaches to Long Races

Written by Dena Evans

07headshotbgWhile a relative newcomer to the marathon, Brett Gotcher has been a long distance specialist since he took up running as a middle schooler.  A native of the coastal community of Watsonville, just south of Santa Cruz, California, Brett took his talents up the road to Stanford for his college years, where he earned Junior National Champion, Junior Pan-Am Games Gold Medalist, and NCAA All-American honors in the 10,000m.  Now representing adidas and training with Greg McMillan’s McMillan Elite group in Flagstaff Arizona, Brett has racked up stack of honors as he has progressed to the longer events.  He earned his first US title at the 20K distance in 2009, and made the fourth fastest marathon debut by an American while running 2:10:36 at the 2010 Chevron Houston Marathon.  Like many of our trainees, Brett is currently also building up for Houston in 2011!

Coach: How did you start running?

BG: I did it to get in shape for basketball in 8th grade.  Our middle school got a team, and I figured would give it a try to get in shape for basketball. Turned out, I loved it. However, I didn’t do track in eighth grade, which was probably a huge mistake, but did golf.

Coach:  When did you decide to give the marathon a try?

BG: It kind of progressed as I got older.  It seemed like the longer the distance I ran, the better I got at it.  I kind of wised up and realized that eventually that was going to end with the marathon.  I was excited to give it a try and see, because I knew I was having some success along the way.  After the first one, I realized I was really into it.

Coach: What is the biggest difference in the mental approach to the marathon?

BG: I think mentally the biggest difference is probably not psyching yourself out about it because it is so far.  For me, I know I can run a 10k, or a half marathon.  But, all of a sudden a marathon is a whole other event.  It is easy to doubt yourself, to think that you won’t even finish, a thought that definitely goes through the mind of even a pro runner.  My biggest thing was keeping my mind at ease and that I have done all the work that would prepare me.

Coach: How DO you keep your mind at ease?

BG: That’s a tough one.   I think something that helps me is the routine of marathon training - eating this, doing that at a certain time.  It is important to stay on that while you are at the race - don’t throw on a new pair of shoes or eat something new. It is good to know that what you are doing for the last month is what you are going to do at the race.

Coach: What is the toughest part of marathon from a mental standpoint?

BG: Definitely the last three miles was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I think some little things caught up to me, maybe I went a little too hard earlier on, or was a little dehydrated, I hope it is not common, but in the marathon it is more likely to happen than in another race.  In the longer races, it is easy to get caught up in how you feel in the early miles, but you can’t read too much into that.  So much can change over the course of the race and sometimes you actually feel the worst in the early part of the race. So you just have to trust during that early part of the race that down the line you will feel like you want to feel.  Sometimes I don’t feel warmed up until 5-6 miles in.

Coach: is there anything you want to do better mentally next time you head to the marathon starting line?

BG: I don’t know if I was being a macho man or what, but I didn’t take my bottles as seriously as I should have.  It wasn’t as much of a top priority as it should have been.  It is important to fuel because you are working the whole time.  It needs to be something that is part of the race planning and not something that is optional.

I think that just knowing the distance makes a big difference, but a marathon is its own beast and you really need to respect it.

Coach:  What are some key pieces of the puzzle provided by your coach?

BG: Everything is very calculated, so months out from the race, we have goals. Obviously we tweak things depending on training, but I think having those goals set out early allows you to think about it when I’m running by myself - I am already visualizing what I am going to do in various situations. So by the time I get to the race, I have already run through the race in a in a lot of different ways.  I feel like I am totally prepared and that gives me a lot of confidence going into a race like a marathon.

Coach: Who are some others with an approach you appreciate?

BG: Ryan Hall, because being his teammate and seeing what he went through in high school and college, to where he is now, that perseverance really says a lot about someone.  That is pretty awesome and I can take something away from it.  Everything is not always going to go perfectly, but if you stick with it, you can be one of the best in the world.  That has been a big piece of me keeping running after college.  It has worked out.  Seeing someone like Ryan go through what he has gone through has helped me feel like it could.

Also, Rod Dixon, the New Zealand 1500 meter guy, who won the New York City Marathon in 2:08.  I saw the video of the race and it was just the toughest I have ever seen anyone run.  I was like,  “Wow.  That is what it takes to be a great marathoner!”

Last modified on March 31, 2011
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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