1 week to Marathon – confidence booster

confidence-boostersWhether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.

This famous phrase amplifies just how much of whether you succeed is down to your mind. Over the last seven weeks I have blogged some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is fully prepared for the London Marathon. This post, with one week to go, suggests you put the icing on your cake by creating your confidence booster.

Self-belief and confidence make achieving our goals far easier. One of the best ways to boost your confidence is to find the evidence and remind yourself of all the fantastic things you have done in the build up to the marathon to get you into the best shape.

So, like in the picture above, get a piece of paper, get out your training diary and write down:

  • Your goal for the Marathon
  • Your mantra which you will use when it gets tough
  • Your strength that you will be able to draw upon when you struggle
  • 3 sessions you did in your build up which give you evidence that you are well prepared

Keep this paper in your wallet, or kit bag, or by the side of your bed and when you feel the nerves creeping in, read through it and remind yourself how hard you have trained and how much you deserve to achieve your goal.

Have a fantastic marathon day. May your goals be hit and your celebrations fun!

3 weeks to Marathon – reframe your thoughts

reframingOver the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This post, with three weeks to go, suggests you practice reframing some of those negative thoughts you’ve found creeping into your head when you have been running.

When you have a bad run you may start to notice negative thoughts sneaking into your head. We have thousands of thoughts each day and it is not surprising if some of those are negative ones. When we are struggling, our body hurts, we feel we don’t have much energy and we are not achieving the times we think we ought to these thoughts quickly turn negative and we start to beat ourselves up. Instead of trying to block these thoughts – something which is incredibly hard to do for a very long time (and most of our training at this stage of marathon preparation does mean we are out for a long time) – instead try to reframe those thoughts into more positive statements.

A way to do this is to write down the negative thought you find yourself having most often. And then, with that list in front of you, consider how you could change each phrase into something more positive. Perhaps from:

  • ‘I am too slow to be a runner’ to ‘I am running – that makes me a runner’.
  • ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I am doing this’.
  • ‘It’s too far’ to ‘It is just a parkrun to go. I’ve run that dozens of times.’
  • ‘They are laughing at me’ to ‘I’ll have the last laugh – I’m getting fit and healthy.’

The more you practice reframing these thoughts the easy it becomes doing it when actually out running.

And if you are wondering if something is actually negative or if it is a valid point ask yourself one question:

Would I say this to a friend?

If you wouldn’t say it to a friend then you shouldn’t say it to yourself. And this Buzzfeed video (excuse the language used) brings this idea to life so well.

Marathon done – Banish any post race blues

In the build up to the London Marathon I blogged some ideas that you could use to stay on track and ensure your mind was as prepared for the marathon as your body was. Now the marathon is over there is one final thing to keep in mind; how to savour your success and stay happy with what you have achieved.

Not everyone needs this. You may well be rocking the comedy walk this morning and have trouble removing the incredibly well deserved grin off your face. That grin may even be pasted on for the next few weeks – and that is fantastic. But for some people, when they have lived for a specific date, focused so hard on their training and achieved something amazing, they can actually feel quite deflated once it is all over. So, over the next few days if you start to feel a little down, don’t worry – this is not unusual. Post-race blues have been experienced by many athletes.

If you do find yourself in this position here are four things to try:

  • Create a momento of the marathon; something which collates your medal, race number, photos and any mantra’s you used that you can put up in your home and remind yourself of what you achieved.
  • Plan something exciting you can look forward to in the week or so as your post marathon treat.
  • Consider which goal you want to go for next. Is it to go longer, or faster, or to try a variation of road running like a triathlon, cross country or some track events? Set that goal and enter the race.
  • Find a way to payback all the social support you got during your marathon training from your family and friends. Social support of your training and racing can make a big difference to how successful you are able to be so now you have some time off after the marathon use that time to thank them and to support them in their sport or hobby. It will make them feel special, and earn you some brownie points for when you enter your next race!

2 weeks to Marathon – make your mantra

Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This post, with two weeks to go, suggests you create your marathon mantra.

As you approach your taper and start to focus on the marathon itself it is a great time to reflect on your motivation for running the marathon and what you want to achieve, whether it is to finish, to finish in a certain time, to finish having enjoyed yourself so much you want to do it again. With this in mind you can create your mantra. This is a short phrase or even a single word that you repeat over and over again to keep positive thoughts in your head. It will often be about your goal or your motivation for your race and it works best when it is personal to you to remind you why you are doing the marathon. Repeating this mantra over and over when you start to feel the nerves on the start line, or even struggle during the race, will keep your mind positive and you motivated and stops those negative voices creeping into your head.

The justification for incorporating a mantra into your race tool kit comes from the well researched benefits of self-talk. Self-talk is the way we all unconsciously talk to ourselves in our heads. What we say to ourselves can impact our behaviours and if we consciously make our self-talk positive we can behave it a way which is much more beneficial to our racing ambitions. It has been found to boost confidence and increase your perseverance.

A great piece of research presented recently came from Alister McCormick who was at the University of Kent. He worked with a group of ultra runners training for a 60 mile race. He taught half the group to use self-talk and half a different skill. The self-talk group finished their ultra race 25 minutes quicker than the other group. They had no additional training. Just used this one technique.

You can create your mantra from one of three areas:

  • Something which reminds you of your motivation for racing (‘I’m running for those who can’t’ or ‘I’m running to raise load of money for my charity’)
  • Something which reminds you of your goal (‘That medal is mine’ or ‘I will get that PB’)
  • Something technical and helps keep your technique on track (‘Pick up your feet’ or ‘shoulders back airways open’).

In all three areas it has been found to have positive impact. You can have something you use every race, or something which helps you in specific types of races.

So how to pick your mantra?

  • It needs to be personal to you.
  • It needs to be positive.
  • It needs to be memorable – so it is front of mind and easy to remember when you need it.
  • It needs to be short – so you can write it down when you may need a reminder; on your gel packets, on your hand, on your drinks bottle.

A wonderful example which is short, memorable, motivational and personal comes from an athlete who attended a workshop I ran last year. He had previously been overweight and unfit. He had worked really hard to lose the weight, build up his fitness and enter a triathlon. As he ran past his dad who was watching him race he overheard his dad proudly boast to another spectator: “that’s my son.” This pride he heard in his dad’s voice made him realise he could never quit the journey he was on and that with each race he was achieving more and more.  Every race he now runs, when he starts to struggle, he hears the words ‘that’s my son’ in his head and knows he will always make it to the end.

4 weeks to Marathon – Distraction technique


Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I’m blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the marathon as your body is. This post, with four weeks to go, suggests you spend some time deciding which distraction technique will work for you.

As you may have discovered during your long runs, sometimes you have a bad day. Your legs hurt, your motivation is through the floor and you wonder if getting round 26.2 miles is realistic. When you have this horrible run, instead of feeling your heart sink, think of it as a great opportunity to practice how you will overcome the bad periods you will go through in the marathon. For many people the distraction technique works well.

You may already have a distraction technique you use when you want to take your mind off how many more miles you still have to go, or off the soreness emanating from your legs. There are hundreds of ways to do this and we each have our own preference. When I have asked athletes what they use I am always struck by how varied the responses are.  Here are a bunch that I’ve seen athletes use and have found successful.

  • Counting up to 100 and back down again in another language
  • Writing your race report in your head
  • Thanking every volunteer marshal
  • Creating a list of 26 things
  • Thinking of the perfect tweet to summarise your race
  • Planning your post race treat
  • Finding someone who is running the same pace as you and chatting to them
  • Making up the story of the person running in front of you
  • Breaking the distances down that you have left into distance you know you have no problem in running: ‘just 2 parkruns to go’
  • And my favourite: Create a competition in your head for the best banner you have see

Whatever your distraction is it will take your mind off your body and focus your brain on something else, helpfully meaning when you click back into the marathon you are further down the road towards the finish.

5 weeks to Marathon – Pre-race routine


Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for your run as your body is. This post, with five weeks to go, suggests you prepare yourself a pre-race routine.

Some people have superstitions they follow. A lucky charm, the same safety pins they use for every race number, always having a t-shirt under their running vest. There is a great list of superstitions followed by famous athletes here. While these superstitions can give you a feeling of security and comfort if you can’t find your charm, or your t-shirt is in the wash you’ll feel very out of sorts. Better is to have a routine you follow before every race that you feel completely in control of.

Your pre-race routine should be personal to you, fitting your own personality and preferences and full of the things you have discovered help you run well. Putting them all together into a pre-race routine helps you focus your attention, reduce your anxiety, improve your confidence and block out distractions before your marathon. It can cover just the hour before you race or it can go back up to 24 hours to put in place everything that you know helps you perform at you best. This can include warm up routines, how you like to engage with others beforehand, preparing your kit, what you eat and drink or how you travel to the venue. Your routine will help you transfer your attention from the nerves and anxieties to things which will help you focus on doing well and make your marathon successful. And it should become something you do before every race or competition so it becomes automatic.

There are lots of questions to ask yourself when you write your routine:

  • Training: Do I want to train the day before the race, if so what session? What time do I like to train?
  • Mental skills: What mental skills will I use: visualisation, self talk? Will I prepare a ‘what if’ plan?
  • Kit: When will I pack my kit bag? Have I a list of everything I need? Have I recently used my kit to know it is not damaged or likely to chafe? Will I be able to store it somewhere?
  • Travel: How will I get to my race? Have I checked the routes? Am I sure I know where the venue is? Are there road / train works? Is there parking? What will I need to pay for?
  • Food: What do I like to eat the night before a race? What do I like for breakfast? Will I be able to get hold of it if staying away? What time should I eat breakfast?
  • Warm up: Does my body like a warm up? Will I avoid people or chat to others? Will I listen to music? Will I take any nutrition before we start? Will I practice any mental skills before the race?

When you’ve answered all of these questions you can timetable in all these activities so you know you won’t have forgotten anything important and can feel confident you are fully ready to race. If you would like a timetable to follow you can download a worksheet here.

6 weeks to Marathon – Visualise your run


Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This post, with six weeks to go, suggests you learn how to run through your mind, as well as in your body.

How often do you train? Three, four, five times a week? Ideally we’d be training every day, but not only does life get in the way, we often also find that our bodies can only cope with so much training before they get injured. In research I’ve undertaken looking at endurance athletes I found that 91% had been injured in the last few years. So anything which can help you perform better, without increasing your risk of injury, is likely to be very popular. One technique to do this is to visualise your running. This is a form of stimulation that allows you to recreate positive elements from memory so you feel your body is following in the patterns and shapes that are required when you run to prepare yourself for your performance.

Visualisation can work in two ways:

  • Motivational – focuses on your goals and your overall performance. i.e. I will be visualising running down to the finish line with a specific time on the clock, or crossing the line and my medal being put around my neck.
  • Cognitive – focuses on the motor skills and strategies you may use. i.e. I will be visualising the running technique I will be using to stop myself slowing down when I get tired.

Both types can improve your self-confidence and then ultimately your performance.

Researchers trying to understand why it works suggest that when we are visualising what we want to happen our neuronal groups interactively fire in defined patterns and structurally modify themselves in a way that makes them more effective. They suggest this means we gain a functional equivalence with the same areas of the brain firing whether a skill is actually performed or just imagined. So, while it can’t replace physical practice, only supplement it, this functional equivalence means an athlete benefits from the extra ‘imagined’ practice but without the additional risk of injury or fatigue.

If you want to try visualisation keep in mind:

  1. Keep your session short (to a few minutes only)
  2. Perhaps write a script and record yourself reading it so you can listen to it and have your story to follow in your head.
  3. Only visualise what you want to happen – not what you are trying to avoid. Be positive, and think of your ideal outcome.
  4. Visualisation also works best when you really bring the images in your head to life though not just trying to ‘see’ them but also add in what you will hear, smell, touch or even taste.
  5. The better your visualisation skills are, the better you will be at using it effectively. So it needs practice.

If this has tempted you to try visualisation there is a worksheet here which explains how to go about it.

7 weeks till Marathon – Understand your motivation


Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This blog, with seven weeks to go, suggests you should spend some time understanding your motivation for running the marathon.

Why are you running the marathon? Are you fundraising for a charity? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Do you enjoy running and use the time in your trainers to keep you mentally strong? Do you want to set a new PB? Has running become your social life? Or are you running because you always do a spring marathon? Whatever that motivation is that got you signing up and out training for the marathon, understanding it, can be really valuable. And when you don’t remember why you are running, or why you chose the races you have entered, it is all too easy to back off or even stop when it gets tough or life gets in the way.

There are two types of motivation. The first comes from inside you. This is when you are competing for the love of it, simply because you get personal satisfaction out of the training, out of striving for targets or just the joy of being able to run. The second type is more externally driven. This may come from the medals you gain, the accolades which come from your friends and family or the fact you don’t want to let down your charity. Neither is better than the other but, if your motivation comes from within it can be more robust and stay with you when you come up against set-backs.

If your motivation is that you love being fit and healthy you will, in the main, be happy looking at your training plan and seeing 6:30am treadmill sessions. Even if that session doesn’t go well your motivation remains high because you are inspired by the process, not the outcome. If your motivation comes from winning prize money your motivation will be through the roof when you are doing well but if you get injured, your rate of improvement slows or you simply have a run of bad luck you will find it really hard to maintain the motivation to keep going and training will feel like a chore.

Whether your motivation comes from internal or external factors all types of motivation can be fuelled – if you are able to identify, hone and make the most of yours.

Free writing is a really good way to do this. You need a pen, notebook, 30 minutes where you won’t be disturbed and a large mug of coffee (tea works well too!). Then all you have to do is daydream and ask yourself a bunch of questions as you write:

  1. How do you see Marathon day going?
  2. What to do you want to feel as you cross the finish line?
  3. What outcome would make you happy?
  4. When you have those (albeit probably rare) amazing runs where you feel like a runner and the miles fly by effortlessly, what is in your mind?
  5. What gives you your buzz in running?
  6. If you were told you couldn’t run at all for the next month how would you feel? 

Reading though your piece of writing at the end can help you identify your motivation. If your daydream is standing on a podium at the end of the marathon then you’ve got a pretty big clue. If it is to be able to hobble into work on the Monday morning with your medal round your neck you have another clue. If you imagine yourself handing over a big cheque to a charity that matters to you, another clue. If it is having your son or daughter ask to go running with you because they want to be like you when they grow up then ‘inspiring others’ may be your motivation. Whatever you feel it is, once you’ve identified it you can work to bring it into your training – making your training really effective and a lot stickier.

For example, if a big donation to your charity is your motivation then research what your target amount could buy for them, and break that down per mile so you know for each mile you’ll be providing an hour of a nurse to someone with cancer, or two hot meals to elderly people. Perhaps speaking to some people the charity supports to dedicate each section of the marathon to them. Or create yourself a mantra which reminds you of who and what you are running for. Write that mantra on your wall, in your wallet, in your kit bag.

If you discover you are motivated by inspiring others then joining group training sessions, signing up to be a run leader for your club or taking coaching classes can be a great way to stay on top of what you want to achieve and give you the buzz you need to stay on track.

So actively identifying your personal motivation and then entwining that with your training and races plans can keep you on track and your goals in sight.

8 weeks till marathon – Training diary

Over the next eight weeks, in the final build up to the London Marathon I’ll be blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the marathon as your body is. This blog, with eight weeks to go, suggests you will really benefit from have a training diary. And not just an excel spreadsheet, or an online tracker, but something you write in, which has loads of space for things beyond the usual: 10 miles run at 8mm pace!

A training diary has so many benefits. Not only will you be tracking how many miles you have run and at what speed, but also the cross training you are doing, any niggles or stitches or stomach cramps you noticed, how your head is feeling on each run, whether you loved, or hated, a certain session, whether you felt the session was beneficial, and what thoughts were going through your head as you did it. In short, it means as well as keeping track of what your heart and legs are doing, you can also keep track of what is going on in your head.  

This will help you spot trends. Physically it is a great way to see if certain runs are causing you stomach cramps, or if you enjoy some types of training more than others (perhaps outside you feel inspired, treadmill leaves you stressed). These are often things you realise over time but noting everything down into a training diary speeds up the process and means you can learn much more about yourself and your training, and adapt things to give you the most benefit.  

There are some great training diaries out there but you can also make your own just from a notebook and adding the following questions in to answer after each run session.

1.       The goal for this session was…..

2.       Did I achieve my goal?

3.       What I did well in this session…

4.       What I would do differently next time…

5.       Any niggles or cramps?

6.       The negative thoughts I had were…

7.       What I have gained by doing this session?

The process shouldn’t be onerous and often the answers may just be one word answers. It should not take longer to fill in your diary than it took to do your run! But running through these questions should help you to reflect really well, keep track of any issues, and will give you some great evidence to use when you get to the start line and need to remind yourself of all the great training you did in the build up to the marathon.