It's less than a week to go until London Winter Run 2018 and for everyone who has been training the hard yards are done, you've got the miles under your feet and the hard work is done. Right? Last week I was lucky enough to catch up with one of my favourite coaches, Tom Craggs, to chat about one aspect of training we often overlook - mental preparedness. I am such a nerd when it comes to the psychology of endurance training, it's a huge part of my marathon training plan, so I wanted to share some of the gems Tom shared with me about how to hone the endurance mind - you never know, it might help you hit that PB this Sunday!
The Mind-Body Connection
How you think has a physical impact, and anxiety can be a real barrier to performance. There's a theory called 'The Central Guvner Theory' which explains this pretty well, in short we all have a point that we can push ourselves to before a subconscious 'off' switch kicks in. This point differs from person to person, but as we live in an increasingly risk adverse society the STOP is likely to kick in a little bit sooner than needed - which means we never quite reach our potential. Handy in some situations, but less so if you're running a race and want to smash it!
Although running is often consider to be an activity that reduces stress, it can end up being quite the opposite because of all the external pressures that can swirl around us, whether it's sharing on social media or friends asking how fast we run! All this stress can be detrimental to our performance and increase our risk of injury. So we need to find a way to manage it, while also making sure our internal governance system doesn't jump the gun!
Mastering Your Mind
The trick is to master your mind - which sounds terribly Derren Brown, but is more achievable than you think, if you practice! There are a few different hacks you can use to achieve this:
- the power of positive memory (association): there's something really affirming about being able to remind yourself that you've done something before, so you can do it again! Keep a training diary and think about the context around runs that have gone well - where was your head at, what happened that day. Not only can you remind yourself of previous successes, you can also create a recipe of conditions for future success. Did you know that Paula Radcliffe used to count to 300 while running? It was the equivalent of a mile (well, in the world of elite marathon runners, I'd have to count to a much higher number!) and was her way of focusing on the task at hand and staying in the moment.
- self talk: it sounds mega cheesy, but be your own cheerleader! British people aren't good at this, it's a cultural thing, so take a moment to step out of your comfort zone and big up yourself. There's a few different ways you can support yourself through a race, whether its using mantras or positive affirmations, or reminding yourself of positive past experiences, either way harness the power of your mind and don't let your subconscious put you down.
- the power within you (centering): I was chatting to a friend about this at the weekend, but one of the greatest things you can do for yourself as a runner is to return to zero and centre yourself. For me this means getting my posture in check - making sure I'm upright and have good form pulls me back to a positive place, but for other people it could be getting their breathing under control. Whatever it is, it's those little tricks that get you back in the game when the going gets tough.
- self transcendent moment: take yourself out of the spotlight for a moment and remember the big emotional reasons why you run. What led you to running? For me it was overcoming a really difficult situation in my personal life, and each time I run I give a little prayer of thanks for how far I've come, all thanks to running. It could be that you're raising money for a charity that's important to you, and each mile you run brings you closer to that important goal, so you keep that in mind and use it to motivate you through tough moments. Another trick is to dedicate each mile to someone important in your life, and you want to run the best you can for each special person.
- psychological planning: this is all about building a pre-race routine that works for you and leaves you feeling focused and positive. It takes a bit of trial and error (like all these tips here), but once you've worked out the formula that works for you it's rinse and repeat to success!
All these tips take a bit of practice, and there's no one size fits all, but once you've mastered your mind and worked out what works for you, then you'll be flying! Remember, we're all performance athletes, and psychology is an important part of making it happen and enjoying your sport!
**I'm an ambassador for London Winter Run and would like to thank them for the opportunity to catch up with Tom and talk all this through.
**image: Anna Rachel Photography