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Marathon Mondays: Building Mental Strength for Race Day - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Marathon Mondays: Building Mental Strength for Race Day

Posted: Updated: Jan 24, 2012 09:48 AM EST

Running a marathon requires training, dedication, and a lot of mental strength. How well a runner actually performs on race day could actually be decided in their head.

Evan Fielder has run 25 marathons. "I think 49% is mental," says the Virginia Beach native. "I think 51% is physical. I think a lot of people will say 95% is mental."

No matter what percentage a runner comes up with, 26.2 miles will take a toll on the body and mind. That's where sports psychologist Sharon Petro comes in.

"Actually more of my clients are amateurs rather than professional athletes," she said.

Petro is the director of Head Coaching in Charlottesville, a company that helps athletes take their games to the next level - no matter the sport.

"Most of the people who come to see me realize they have potential, and they practice well, but when it gets to competition and the pressure is on, they kind of choke and they want to get over that," said Petro.

Gretchen Kittleberger is one of Petro's clients. She is a CrossFit athlete who is vying for the title of The Fittest Woman on Earth.

CrossFit competitors train on a wide range of strength and fitness skills, and while she has the skills, Kittleberger says her lack of confidence started to effect performance.

"I would look at other competitors and their scores, and be like, man they're beating me. I should be up there. I'm not good enough. And I started to have all of these negative thoughts that started impacting my training and competing."

Through her work with Petro and Head Coaching, Kittleberger learned the importance keeping her focus on the task at hand - something athletes often struggle with.

Petro said, "This is what separates the cream from the crop: people who can consistently keep their mind in the present and on the process, and those are the one who are going to do quite well."

It's a lesson Kittleberger has taken to heart. "When you're spending so much time stressing about stuff that might happen in the future, or worried about what happened in the past, you're taking away energy from yourself. Energy you need to focus on what's going on right now, and how to be the best you can at that moment," she said.

Sports psychology may not be for everyone, but for so many athletes, from the elites to your average weekend warrior, it's an important part - if not the most important part - of the training regimen.

Kittleberger said, "People overlook the mind, I think. But it's a huge component in athletics at any level."

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