How Coach Marco Anzures Optimizes His Mind & Body For Peak Performance

Fotis Georgiadis
Mar 3 · 16 min read

Creating new habits is hard. But yes, if you want to see the changes you are looking for you will need to establish new behaviors. Being consistent in training is especially important when it comes to endurance training. I’ve had to change my habits over time. In college my obligations were to my team and my studies and not much else. I could be a lot more relaxed in how I used my time. However, as I have matured I have many more responsibilities. For example, I would rather not get up early in the morning but in order for me to train and assist with my wife’s training before I head to the college to teach, I need to be able to do that.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marco Anzures.

Marco Anzures is a USA Track & Field Level 2 certified endurance coach and a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with 18 years of experience in endurance sports.

​He holds a Master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion, specializing in performance enhancement and injury prevention, from California University of Pennsylvania. He has 8 years of experience teaching health, exercise science, and kinesiology at California Community Colleges and 10 years experience coaching at the high school, college, and professional level.

Prior to coaching, Marco competed at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in cross-country/track & field and competed professionally for a time following graduation with an Adidas sponsored group in Flagstaff, AZ.

​He is currently the head women’s cross-country coach at San Diego City College and coaches his wife, Natasha LaBeaud Anzures, a multi-time national and World team member for Athletics Canada. His other passions include teaching pedagogy, equity in education, and physical activity literacy. Marco and his wife also co-founded the nonprofit, 2nd Recess, which introduces kids and families to fun, fitness, and nutrition through running.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me, it is a real pleasure. I grew up in San Diego and still reside there with my wife. I was a pretty active kid and played a sport nearly every season mostly alternating between baseball and soccer depending on the time of year. I attended St. Augustine High School a small, all-boys school in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. At the time there were only two options for Fall sports — football or cross country. I wasn’t interested in football but was told that cross-country was an excellent way for soccer players to gain conditioning, so I joined. I didn’t know anything about the sport, but I had a transformational coach and mentor, Coach Jerry Downey, and I ended up choosing cross-country and track & field as my athletic focus. Since high school running has been one of the driving forces in my life and led me to college, professional running, a graduate degree, my career in teaching and coaching, and most probably most importantly to my wife!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

Throughout my running career I was always a very good runner. I have a competitive spirit and tireless work ethic that gave me the ability to compete at the highest levels in high school and college. I had to work hard for the success I gained, but it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience. My high school coach always made sure we knew that through hard work we could accomplish high goals. He told us stories of runners from our school’s past that did well in high school, went to college, got a degree, and had lots of success. He emphasized that if these runners could do it, then so could we. That gave us confidence in our abilities. That mindset carried with me in college at UCLA. I wasn’t the fastest runner recruited in my class, but I did have a desire to work hard in order to improve. I chose UCLA in part because I wouldn’t be the fastest runner there, not by a long shot. I wanted to be challenged. I made steady progress each year in college, but it was really my senior year, when we got a new head coach, Forest Braden (who is now the coach at William & Mary), that I began to think about running beyond college.

Coach Braden was the right coach at the right time for me as an athlete. He was only a few years older than us and had just arrived from running with a post-collegiate professional group himself. He was indefatigable about working hard, being physically and mentally tough, and having a positive attitude. I personally related to his style of coaching really well and that year felt like anything was possible — mostly because he told me so. That type of reinforcement went a long way for me. After I graduated I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to do. Coach Braden had intimated during the track season that I could have a shot at being accepted to one of the post-collegiate training groups that existed at the time. It was with his guidance that I reached out to groups, spoke with coaches, and ultimately visited and was chosen to join a group called adidas-McMillan Elite, in Flagstaff, AZ. Without Coach Braden I wouldn’t have even known that those groups existed. It was his coaching that gave me confidence, improved my performances, and then his counsel after my eligibility was over that helped me pursue professional running.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My parents and family played a big role in who I am today, but outside this core group there are few individuals. I mentioned Coach Braden earlier. He was a critical piece to my running success late in college and afterwards (So much so that he was also in my wedding as one of my groomsmen). He has also been a person I can rely on for mentorship. Another person I mentioned briefly before was my high school coach, Coach Downey. Outside my wife and my parents he has been the most formative person in my life. He introduced me to the sports of cross country and track & field, was my first mentor, and my most trusted confidant. He passed away in 2015, and I miss him every day but the lessons he instilled continue to influence how I conduct myself in my personal life and as a professional. Lastly, I most certainly would not have accomplished half of what I have without the tireless support of my wife, Natasha. I could go on and on listing all the ways she has helped me grow but one of the most lasting impacts she has had on me is her compassion for others. She treats every person she meets with respect and makes them feel seen and heard. I couldn’t have been more fortunate to meet her — and running did that for me!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Here is one. In high school my senior year there was an early season cross-country invite that our team had been to each year previously. I had never won the event before but knew I could this season. I also had a strong teammate and we were able to race together. This race was also run at the same park that another invite, only two or three weeks later, was run on. And the courses were pretty similar. That was also an event our team went to each year. Flash to the middle of the race and my teammate and I were in the lead, comfortably from what I remember. I can recall thinking that we were going to win the race. At about the two-mile mark, the course crosses itself and at this point in the race a large JV group of girls, I would say about 20, were warming up and covering up the area of the course that crossed itself. As we approached we couldn’t see the course markings and ran through the group of girls yelling for them to get out of the way. We ended up missing our turn and running about 300m in the wrong direction before we realized that the finish line was in the opposite direction and that the course was eerily quiet. I had to yell to my teammate that we went the wrong way, stop completely, and double back. I was more worried about my coach’s reaction to going the wrong way than with the lost opportunity to win the event. He always stressed knowing the course. He was upset and we got a stern reminder to know the course and not to let it happen again. We laugh at the memory now, but we definitely always knew the course like the back of our hands from that point forward!

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

I would tell them to make sure they gave themselves credit for all of their hard work. There will be a lot of moments as you develop as a runner and professional in a field where you will feel like you aren’t doing enough or that everyone else just seems to “get it” more than you do. If you aren’t patient and not able to put things into perspective and appreciate your own efforts it will be difficult, not impossible, but difficult to weather the inevitable challenges life throws your way. One thing that has been immensely helpful has been regularly working with a therapist to work on myself. Mental health maintenance is an aspect of our lives that should be as regular as a sound diet and exercise. I have found the ability to self-reflect and work on personal things like stress management, relationships, training, and work to be invaluable in my development.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The pandemic has shifted my focus from training individuals in person and I’ve reworked my coaching website to offer virtual running training, strength training, and athletic development. This actually allows me to reach more people and makes me more available. This has been a tough period of time for a lot of people and exercise has been a way for them to de-stress and stay strong. I’m happy that my skills can help people train and remain healthy.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Stress and pressure are a normal part of the athletic experience and the focus for an athlete and a coach should be on helping the athlete maintain the appropriate amount of mental and physical arousal for their sport. For example, a golfer who is overly excited and pumped up may not be able to focus on their performance, while an Olympic lifter may need to be as amped up as they can to perform a heavy lift. The inverted U-theory helps explain optimizing performance by attaining the appropriate amount of arousal for an athlete based on their personal characteristics and sport. There are several techniques athletes and coaches can use to help optimize their performance. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique that anyone can employ before a competition. It is sometimes referred to as “belly” breathing because you focus on taking deep inhalations. The process of taking deep, steady breaths refocuses attention from external stressors and physiologically reduces heart rate and muscle tension. It is a technique also used in many mindfulness practices. A second technique that people may have heard of before is mental imagery. Imagery involves an athlete visualizing themselves being successful in the context of the race or competition. Beginners would start off by creating an image of themselves running in the race and executing a strong finish. This type of practice can reinforce positive emotions towards competition because the athlete is experiencing success, albeit mentally. A final technique is called positive self-talk. Self-talk is the conversation we have with ourselves. All competitors recognize the two voices in their own heads — the positive one and the negative one. These voices can affect our confidence and performance during a competition, especially if we allow the negative self-talk to overwhelm our thoughts. I instruct my athletes to employ this technique during the part of a race that they know is the hardest for them. Because they typically can anticipate when that is from prior experience they can choose a customized phrase to repeat to themselves when a difficult part of the race comes up. One phrase that my wife and I use during stressful situations is “positive water”. We read an article that referenced a study that said researchers played positive sounding or negative sounding music into a glass of water and measured the activity of the water particles. The negative music caused the particles to be erratic and chaotic while the positive music had the opposite effect. The takeaway was that our environment can have a psychological and physical effect on us. The phrase “positive water” reminds us that we can control our emotions.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

As an instructor at San Diego City College, I teach an introduction to health course. One emphasis of the course is being able to identify various dimensions of our health and knowing how to manage those aspects of wellness with specific behaviors. One area we discuss is our mental health and in particular how to manage stress. Earlier I mentioned diaphragmatic breathing and its benefits for athletes and performance. Well, that technique can also be used as a daily exercise to practice mindfulness and manage stress. The focus on taking deep breaths pushes out the constant stream of thoughts that cross your mind. It is a simple, yet effective technique that anyone can try. If you become distracted by a thought you simply refocus on taking deep breaths. This type of practice is best done in a quiet place without distractions and improves with practice. There are great free apps as well to get you introduced to the technique.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

I personally like to rely on my race or performance rituals, like my warm-up routine, prior to my race to help calm me and keep me focused. I have found that when I focus on the process, like executing a good warm-up, rather than on the outcome of the race I achieve my appropriate level of preparedness and motivation. During practice, I also like to experiment with different types of preparation scenarios. For instance, cutting my warm-up short, or only doing a slow jog and few strides — just in case I encounter an unforeseen circumstance at a race I know that I can still execute a good performance. Practice is a low-stakes environment and gives me confidence for my more stressful competitions.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

My number one recommendation would have to be ensuring that I get enough sleep each night and consistent sleep throughout the week. Sleep is often overlooked as a performance tool because it is so easy to get caught up in buying a recovery tool as a solution. All the mental and physical recovery from training occurs when you sleep and the length of your sleep impacts the quality of your sleep. Each person will be slightly different in the amount of sleep they need to feel well rested and recovered, but you can track that yourself by recording your waking resting heart rate. I have recently changed when I go to bed at night, when I wake up, and for how long I sleep, to see how my resting heart rate changes and how I subjectively feel in the morning. I’ve determined that I seem to feel better if I go to bed between 9:00–9:30pm and sleep for about seven and half hours.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Creating new habits is hard. But yes, if you want to see the changes you are looking for you will need to establish new behaviors. Being consistent in training is especially important when it comes to endurance training. I’ve had to change my habits over time. In college my obligations were to my team and my studies and not much else. I could be a lot more relaxed in how I used my time. However, as I have matured I have many more responsibilities. For example, I would rather not get up early in the morning but in order for me to train and assist with my wife’s training before I head to the college to teach, I need to be able to do that.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Hands down the most useful strategy in creating new habits is using SMART Goal setting. It is a popular technique that helps you outline a specific goal, establish a way to measure your progress, outline the actions that you need to take to reach your goal, and asks you to reflect on why the goal motivates you (this is the ‘R’ for relevant), and when you will check on your progress (‘T’ for time frame). In a lot of models for SMART Goals the ‘A’ stands for attainable, but I have found it better to prioritize naming the actions that inch you closer to your goal. The power in SMART Goals over regular goals is that it gets us to write down and think about the plan for how we want to achieve our goal. I encounter lots of students and athletes who have goals that live in their head, but they are so amorphous they never really start to make progress on them. SMART Goals give you a concrete way to breathe life into a goal.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

I mentioned earlier some breathing and mindfulness techniques you can employ to help with stress environments or situations. Managing stress is a wellness activity that ultimately improves you feel mentally and physically. Students who enroll in my health class and student-athletes on my team have all described the cathartic effect of regular exercise on how they feel. Exercise has been shown to help decrease stress because of the physiological adaptations we gain from exercise. Earlier I spoke about the importance of being consistent in changing habits and finding an exercise routine or stress management routine that you can stick to can be a way to achieve a greater peace of mind.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I am not as consistent with my mindfulness practices as I would like, but I do find focusing on my breathing for periods of 5–10 minutes during the day very beneficial. Another simple technique I like, which I don’t think has a name, is just listening to music while I do housework or while lying down for a moment. Simple practices like this add up over time and can have a very positive effect on you feel.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

Good question. We all have that negative inner voice. I have found that it is better for me to acknowledge that there are some days I will feel a bit inferior and the negative voice is a little louder than normal. Something I picked up from my wife is saving nice messages or comments from students, athletes, or other people in my life. I keep these in a folder on my computer and refer to them when I need a pick-me-up. They are reminders of all the good things I am doing and the positive impact I have on other people. It also helps for me to just ask my wife if how I feel is warranted. Having someone you trust to provide perspective is also very helpful.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I really enjoy giving back to my community. My wife and I started a youth nonprofit, 2nd Recess, in 2011 in order to give kids the opportunity to experience fun and fitness through running. The intent is not to have kids grow up to be runners but to expose them to the joys of physical activity so they continue to have an active lifestyle as they get older. We have had the pleasure of working with thousands of kids in San Diego through the program and partner with other organizations to give kids and families who might not otherwise have the chance to participate an opportunity.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Oh, I have a lot of favorites, but I will choose just one. Here it is: “If you see someone without a smile, give them yours”. I don’t remember who it is from, but I like it because it serves as a reminder for me to engage with people I come into contact with. Here is a simple example, if you walk down the street and cross paths with someone you don’t know if you smile at them, say ‘hello’, and continue on, nine times out of ten that person will smile back. The next time you get an unexpected smile and ‘hello’ from someone else you will probably instinctively smile back and your smile will last for several moments afterwards. A smile is a powerful tool and makes us feel good, even if we don’t know the other person.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

I would love to have a breakfast with comedian Nate Bargatze. I watch and listen to his podcast, Nateland, each week and can’t help but laugh out loud a dozen or more times during it. It is a podcast about nothing — his words — but it has been a great way for me to just let my mind rest. No thinking necessary. I am a huge fan of his and love his comedy.

Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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