How Top Marathoners Succeed at the U.S. Olympic Trials

4. Top runners controlled their emotions during the race.

They were poised, focused and in control during the most important race of their lives. They kept their cool when the heat was on. It was only after they crossed the finish line that their emotions were evident to their competition and observers.

5. Top runners expected to experience some discomfort.

I heard Amy Hastings, who finished fourth in the women's race, say: "I know there will be good miles and bad miles."

6. Top runners used mental skills.

Shalane Flanagan, the winner of the women's race, said during a press conference that using visualization helped her mentally prepare for a good race.

"The marathon is a really hard event and any advantage you can give yourself is nice," she said. Visualization gave her an advantage by improving her confidence going into the race. She knew what to expect because she had already seen herself performing well on the course before she arrived in Houston.

There is little doubt after watching the trials that any competition is won or lost on the playing field that exists 6 inches between the ears. Studies in sport psychology show that athletes who train their minds out-perform those who don't. More athletes are recognizing that they must develop the mental side of sport and competition.

Regardless of the sport you play or the type of performance you engage in, use these six observations to improve your performance and live up to your potential.

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