Autobiographies: Male Track and Road runners

I work a lot with teenage track runners and while many of the girls are inspired by Autobiographies by athletes like Kelly Holmes, Jess Ennis or Chrissie Wellington I struggled to find some that teenage boys felt they could really relate to. So a quick shout out on twitter and here is a list of Running Autobiographies from Male athletes. I’ve stuck to track and marathon rather than fell running, adventuring etc as there are just so many of these wonderful books. Maybe that will be the next list…

Alberto Salazar, 14 minutes – https://www.amazon.co.uk/14-Minutes-Alberto-Salazar/dp/1609619986

Bill Adcocks, The Road to Athens – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-Athens-Bill-Adcocks/dp/0954789601

Bill Jones, Ghost Runner – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Runner-Tragedy-They-Couldnt/dp/1845966066

Brendan Foster – https://www.amazon.co.uk/BRENDAN-FOSTER-Brendan-Foster/dp/0434269115

Carl Lewis, Inside Track – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inside-Track-Autobiography-Carl-Lewis/dp/1476777918

Charlie Spedding, from last to first – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-First-Charlie-Spedding/dp/1781312222

Colin Jackson, Autobiography – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colin-Jackson-Autobiography/dp/0563521422

David Hemery, Another Hurdle – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Another-Hurdle-David-Hemery/dp/0434326305

Haile Gebrselassie, The Greatest (not an autobiography but good enough to ignore that fact!) – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Greatest-Haile-Gebrselassie-Story/dp/1891369482

John Parker Jnr, Once a Runner (a novel but from the perspective of a high school runner) – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Once-Runner-John-Parker-Jr/dp/1416597891

Linford Christie, An autobiography – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Linford-Christie-Autobiography/dp/0091741793

Meb Keflezighi, 26 Marathons – https://www.amazon.co.uk/26-Marathons-Learned-Identity-Marathon/dp/0593139836

Michael Johnson, Slaying the Dragon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Slaying-Dragon-Small-Steps-Great/dp/0060392185

Mo Farah, Twin Ambitions – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twin-Ambitions-Autobiography-Olympic-champion/dp/1444779583

Rob De Castella, Deek – https://www.amazon.com/Deek-Making-Australias-Marathon-Champion/dp/0002173174

Roger Bannister, First Four Minutes – https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Four-Minutes-Roger-Bannister/dp/0750935308

Roger Black, How long’s the course  – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roger-Black-How-Longs-Course-ebook/dp/B00CA3WGEI

Ron Hill, The long hard road (part 1 & 2)- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Hard-Road-Nearly-Top/dp/095078821X  / https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0950788236

Ryan Hall, Run the Mile you are in – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Run-Mile-Youre-Hall-Ryan/dp/0310354374

Sebastian Coe, Running my life – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-My-Life-Autobiography-Winning/dp/1444732528

Steve Ovett, An Autobiography – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ovett-Autobiography-Steve/dp/0002181193

Locked down running… Head space…Heart space

I’ve not blogged in what feels like forever – basically since April. I have an inbox full of blog ideas I’ve sent myself to work on and they sit there glaring at me – guilt seeping off the screen but, you know, lockdown.

But someone put a comment on the posts about training for Paris that it would be interesting to know what happened once Paris went out the window (currently scheduled for October 18th but I’m assuming it won’t happen) and it got me thinking that it is actually once we suffer a setback that the lessons really begin and we can get stronger – so here I am. Reflecting.

Compared to many others I’ve got away really lightly over lockdown. I’ve not been ill. In fact the three of us (I live with my husband and our 3 year old daughter) have been healthier than ever as we’ve not been run down or outside picking up our usual colds and viruses. My husband can easily work from home and I can still see the athletes I work with over Skype. Athlete work has reduced but writing work increased so it balances out well. But both of us working full time and looking after our daughter has not been easy. There has been far too much Ben and Holly (v v irritating cartoon), not enough ABC Mouse (which is an educational App) to learn her numbers and letters and while we tried to do lots of treasure hunts, bouncing (we gave in half way through and bought a trampoline) and den making it always felt rushed because we had emails piling up and constant guilt about not doing anything properly. On the lovely side though we have skipped together, learnt how to hula hoop and she has finally got brave enough on her balance bike to ask for a fast bike with pedals. In reflection it sounds pretty good. At the time not so good. So much stress from not knowing how long it would last and so spending the whole time feeling guilty about not doing enough of anything and failing at lockdown (not once did we make Sourdough or Banana Bread).

I gave myself 30 minutes a day to run and found one route that was fairly safe to run on (we are in a city – people everywhere and my usual run route banned runners and cyclists) and getting to listen to podcasts normalising that full time work and full time childcare and trying to stay somewhat healthy is really tough.

Most sports psychs I know well don’t have children yet so I was envying the time they would have to really focus on their own growth and development. What really helped was hearing a podcast (Locked Down Parenting – Loved it) with one of the comedians they interviewed being in a really similar situation saying: ‘This isn’t a writing retreat – it is a global pandemic’. Really gave a good kick up the bum to count my blessings.

So what happened to all those miles in the legs, the great habits developed and the mental skills honed in the build up to Paris. To be honest I let most of them go. I’m ok with that. It was great to know I could train properly if I want to but I definitely need a goal to do it. And when I don’t have a goal I’m not built to push myself too hard. I have run five times a week. I did 100 miles in May for Miles for Mind and liked the challenge and I have done a few of my coaches brick sessions but hard efforts don’t entice. I need a purpose to push myself and right now my purpose is just to stay fit and healthy.

Running had become my head space, my place to day dream, learn and come up with new ideas. And I love that. It doesn’t have to feel hard and full of effort. Ambling along with Josh Widdecome (Locked Down Parenting) or Annie Emmerson and Louise Minchin (Her Spirit podcast) in my ears is more than enough.

Our daughter is back at nursery now. The day before she went back she told me: ‘I love you and daddy but I really want to see my friends’ and my heart sang. She wanted normality back as much as we did. And she is absolutely thriving being back.

And yet the desire to race and get fast has stayed away. Instead I’m using running for a lunchtime catch up with my husband or a way to get to the park to see friends for a socially distanced coffee. It is no longer head space but heart space. Allowing me to spend time with people I love. A purpose I’ll hang onto for a while.

9 weeks to race day…Values

Green week 4Another green week. :0) I’ve now hit my goal of four green weeks. Some of this is more focus and effort on my part – some of this is down to working more closely with my coach so the training which goes in matches my workload better – giving me fewer excuses. I did procrastinate all day Sunday about a horrible 70 minute treadmill session but actually, as usual, once it was done I realised it wasn’t that bad.

I got my long run in by running home from a talk I was giving at the Olympic Velodrome. I think you know you are in marathon training when you look through your diary and get excited at events being held a bit of a distance away as it gives an opportunity for a sneaky run!

Another project that got me running this week was a cool new podcast I’m involved with. It is called Mind over Muscle and is being produced for London Marathon by Audible. Ant Middleton is the main dude on it and I have already enjoyed hearing his perspectives around mindset. Mara Yamauchi is also working on the show and I plan to bug her for some marathon tips closer to the race. I don’t want to ruin any surprises in it (it starts on Thursday 6th Feb) so won’t go into what we have been up to but I am really enjoying working with runners who wouldn’t usually have a sports psychologist. Seeing how some simple (but of course evidence-based) recommendations can make a big difference to someone’s mindset is really encouraging to remember why we do the work we do.

One of the other areas I really enjoy doing as a sport psychologist is helping athletes understand their values – not just in sport but in life. It is pretty rare that we get the time or headspace to really think and identity what matters to us but actually, if we truly understand where our drivers come from, what we really want and where our passion and purpose lie, it is much easier to make authentic (and thus stickier) sporting decisions.

For example, an athlete who really values trust, communication and creativity would struggle to feel comfortable with a coach who had very rigid rules and told the athlete what they thought they wanted to hear rather than what they actually thought. However, an athlete whose values were discipline, dependency and happiness may be quite happy with this approach.

To ensure I’ve picked the right goal and to keep these values front of mind I did my own value mapping. We can use a list of 56 common values to begin and the aim is to filter down to between three and five. It is really difficult. Most athletes will want to retain about 20-25.

Achievement Effectiveness Honesty Quality
Affection Efficiency Hope Recognition
Ambition Empathy Humour Respect
Autonomy Equality Independence Risk-Taking
Beauty Excitement Innovation Security
Challenge Faith Integrity Service
Communication Family Intelligence Simplicity
Competence Flexibility Love Spirituality
Competition Forgiveness Loyalty Strength
Courage Freedom Open-minded Success
Creativity Friendship Patience Teamwork
Curiosity Growth Pleasure Trust
Decisiveness Happiness Politeness Truth
Dependability Harmony Power Variety
Discipline Health Productivity Wealth
Diversity Helpful Prosperity Wisdom

For me, after lots of reflection, the three that drive my journey in life (and sport) are family, achievement and courage.

They can then be built into my marathon process: I want to impress my family – I want my daughter to be proud of her mummy. I want her to learn that if we set out to achieve something we see it through to the end. We don’t quit when it gets tough – instead we summon up all our courage to overcome the difficulties.

This can filter into self-talk so I can draw on mantras like ‘Make Hattie (my daughter) Proud’ – ‘Be Brave’ – ‘You wanted this’ and they should all help to keep me going when it gets really hard.

I have a race this weekend – the Winter 10k round central London. I’ve run it at least 3 times before so I know where I tend to tire out and where I tend to make excuses to slow down. I’ll be practising these value driven mantras to see which ones really resonate and work to shut down the excuses.

If you’ve read this far and want to work on your own values I’d love to chat about them on twitter: @josephineperry

 

10 weeks to race day…Goal setting

BooksI knew on Monday this week would not be a ‘green’ week as coughing and sneezing flew around everyone in our house. I have asthma and every cold turns into a chest infection (if I’m lucky) or sinusitis (if I’m unlucky) so I try to be really gentle with myself when a cold pops up. Owning a gorgeous but snotty 3 year old means colds pop up a lot (thanks nursery!)

So Tuesday I ran home from seeing a client and then noticing my resting heart rate was much higher than it should be did nothing for a couple of days. Friday I did a bit. Saturday was a planned rest day as I was away working.

The time off meant I did some reading. I actually read two books this week and loved both. Anne McNuff running the whole way across New Zealand inspire me to think more adventurously about running and Ronda Rousey’s mindset for competition is astounding.

Sunday I got back into it and did my long run. 15 miles. Would have been incident free but for the path being completely flooded due to high tide and me having to run a diversion. I’ve run along the Thames path for 11 years now – one day I will learn. As I was out for over 2 hours I did really enjoy catching up on some podcasts though. I love:

  • Doing it for the kids – great for freelancers and small business owners trying to run businesses around childcare. Which makes it sound boring but it’s really funny and full of fab advice.
  • Marathon talk – always helps me feel like I’m not the only one out there for hours and hours and listening to Holly (one of the presenters) interviewing Fergus Crawley who has been doing some crazy challenges to raise awareness for male mental health was brilliant. Made my 15 miles feel pathetic!
  • Free weekly timed – a podcast all about parkrun. I am biased as one presenter does my local parkrun and the other is a friend I’ve known since we both used to time trial but I love the passion and enthusiasm they both show for running. And I’m dead chuffed that I’ll be on the podcast soon talking about running addiction.

So not a green week – but that is why when I set my goals I didn’t set out to achieve a green week every week. I’m realistic and knew at least one cold was likely in 13 weeks and I’m sure more stuff will come along to knock me off track. SO I actually only set myself the goal of getting 4.

So goals. So many studies show that setting clear, specific, realistic and timely goals which come completely within an athlete’s control can increase their motivation, commitment, concentration and confidence, reduce negative anxiety and improve their performance. To me it feels like it can be the key to so much else and so important for keeping us on track.

Once I’d completed my performance profile (in last week’s post) I needed to turn those elements which would make the biggest difference to my performance into my actual goals. The process I used is one I use with all the athletes I work with. I’d already got my outcome goal so the next stage is to create some performance goals along the way. Performance goals give us staging posts to see whether we are on track towards our outcome goal.

The important bits come last – these are the process goals. They give us the building blocks of training and preparation. They are the behaviours, actions, strategies and tactics we need in place if we are to achieve each performance. These are all within our own control (with the right support and work ethic) and following them should ensure we have regular progression as they are gradually ticked off.

Marathon goals

So, I developed mine, stuck them above my desk (so I see them every day) and in my training diary (hopefully something I will also see every day) and so far am on track. Feels really good. I’m a little bit proud of myself!

This week is busy so I’ll be buying some gym passes (Hustle – my new favourite website – you can buy one off passes for gyms you will be working near) and trying to squeeze in whatever I can to get green week number four.

11 weeks to race day…Performance Profiling

RP half photoI missed a blog post. I’ll go back to the ACT stuff when I get some time but in the hope of catching up and getting back on track here is where I am at 11 weeks to go.

Running wise I’m on track. Three full weeks of complete Green in training peaks. I have a very surprised coach! I have a very surprised me too if I’m honest. I’ve actually liked not thinking about training – just doing whatever I’ve been told.

I also snuck in a race. I thought I was working all weekend but on Thursday realised I’d messed up my diary and would be free on Saturday. About 30 seconds later up popped a facebook advert for the Richmond Park Half Marathon. It was on Saturday morning and only a 20 minute bike ride from home. Bingo.

The race was lovely. Absolutely freezing to start with so I massively overdressed and then overheated. I do this a lot! It was tricky terrain. Really muddy, soggy slippery ground. And hilly. But I used the ‘I love hills’ mantra and overtook people which was a nice boost. I had lots of show tunes in my ears (I don’t normally listen to music in races but wanted to see if it helped) and grinned the whole way round. Ironically S Club 7s ‘Don’t stop moving’ started just as I sprinted for the line. But 13.1 miles was enough for me so I stopped!

Monday I started on a cool new project – but it involved spending seven hours outside at an outward bound type place standing in very thick, deep wet mud – I really don’t do mud! I think it tipped me over the edge into illness as I woke up this morning with no voice and a very high resting heart rate so maybe I need an easy week to fight off whatever is unhappy with me. So Training Peaks might get a bit red this week but I’m ok with that. If we are pushing hard we can usually expect a week of marathon training to get written off with illness – an the expectation makes it much less stressful if it happens.

One of the techniques that has got me to the start of week 4 going all Green so far is doing a Performance Profile.

Performance profiling helps us really understand the barriers and obstacles holding us back. It helps us take our goal and turn it into actionable, focused plans – entirely tailored to us as an athlete – and highlights what will make the biggest difference to our performance.

There are various ways to do performance profiling but my favourite starts with thinking about the characteristics of a person who has already achieved our goal. So for me that is someone who can run a 3:40 marathon. What would they be doing in terms of:

  • Lifestyle and support
  • Technical and tactical skills
  • Physical preparation and fitness
  • Logistical planning
  • Psychological behaviours and tactics.

I then rate the importance (I) of each characteristic on a scale of zero (not at all important) to 10 (extremely important) to help me prioritise the elements which will make the biggest difference.

Next, I consider where I am right now (R). This is where you have to be honest if it is to be effective. Again we score out of 10.

Finally, we work on our discrepancy score; I x (10 – R). We put the highest scoring areas (up to about 10) into our goal setting – often as specific process goals so we can be focused on improving them. Here is my profile:

Performance profile photo

The elements in red went into my goal setting. I’ll explain about my goal setting next week. Which will give me  a great prompt to check in with each goal and make sure I’m on top of them all.

 

 

 

 

13 weeks till race day… motivational philosophy

Richmond 10k medal

So the first proper week of training for Paris Marathon. It went well. I really love having a goal, especially one I’m genuinely excited by. I know why I am excited. My favourite psychological theory (yes – I realise how sad that makes me) is Self-Determination Theory. It says that in order to feel fully motivated for anything we need three pillars in place:

  • Community – we need to feel part of what we are doing, have friends in our sport, have experts we can call upon. We need to feel like part of the gang.
  • Competence – we need to feel like we know what we are doing in our sport and we have the skills to carry it out.
  • Autonomy – we need to be able to choose our own goal and choose how we get there. We really need to feel like we control our own destiny.

To stay fully motivated then I need to make sure I have the three pillars in place and I do:

  • Community – I have got this through being a member of a club (I’m a member of Serpentine Running Club which as one of the biggest clubs in England has lots of people to inspire me), using social media (I follow loads of amazing runners of all speeds and sizes and distances) and have built up some brilliant friends who run so I feel comfortable talking about running with them. I’m also married to a runner so very little negotiation is required to get a Saturday morning Parkrun in or to have a weekend taken up with races. And two of my closest friends have said they’ll come over to Paris to watch me run which will be awesome (and a good incentive not to be pathetic!)
  • Competence – If I was attempting something like fell or mountain running I’d be completely out of my depth. But running a flat road marathon on a course I’ve done twice before is fine. I know I have the physical skills to do that. My journey will see if I have the psychological skills to do it in the time I want though. I’m keeping a training diary so I can give myself evidence of my competence as a runner.
  • Autonomy – I picked this goal myself. I love the race; the atmosphere, the course, the weather at that time of year and I promised my daughter she could go up the Eiffel Tower after she missed out due to fog last time we went to Paris. I’ve also picked my own time goal. One which isn’t too unrealistic (I hope) but fast enough it will scare me into working hard.

With these in place my motivation is as high as it could be. And that is probably why (alongside having this blog for some accountability) I achieved my first ever fully Green Week on Training Peaks. Never been done before.

Green training peaks

I also got to finish the week with a race. It was a 10k in Richmond Park. I ‘warmed up’ with a 5k jog to make it count as my long run and then went harder for the 10k. Chatted to a lovely guy for the last 2k who told me he was coming back from ACL surgery and so instead of taking it so seriously like he used to now he was grateful for every mile he was able to run. A wonderful reminder of how lucky we are to be able to be active and to savour the moments (even when hot and sweaty and your lungs and legs hurt and you’ve just run through a massive pile of deer poo). And it really helped that I had both my mum and my daughter cheering me on the end – it pushed me towards a sprint finish! As a bonus my husband came third in the men’s race and won some wine which I’ll kindly help him drink tonight. 

Next week I’ll explore the start of my goal setting for this race in the shape of an approach to therapy that I love (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and the matrix we use within it to help us overcome what holds us back.

Project Paris…

Paris Logo

I ran my first marathon in 2004. I’ve run one most years since then. But I’m not convinced I’ve ever really tried to run one properly. In fact, I’m pretty sure I haven’t because while being a sport psychologist is fantastic for helping you understand how you can improve in your sport, it is awful for exposing you to your weaknesses. When you spend all day with people striving to be the best in their sports or fields there is no hiding your self-awareness as to where you don’t stack up. I know I have an inner Homer (Simpson) and my spiritual home is the sofa, not the treadmill. I know I negotiate with myself that as long as I’ve done something (even though it is not the session my coach set) then I’m happy with that. As a positive it means I am rarely anxious about my sport and enjoy racing.

In fact, this process; trying to put my sport in context, seeing it as clearly just a hobby and not feeling like my race times define me is a great strategy. It is one I often recommend with athletes who are becoming overly anxious about their sport. But… it leaves me with a niggling feeling I could go faster and I’ll never know. So, for the next 13 weeks I’m going to try and go down the other strategy I sometimes suggest; going all in. Setting a goal that really matters to me, preparing properly, putting in place all the techniques and activities I would suggest to the athletes I work with.

I can’t ever share what we do with athletes, but I can share what I do myself. So over the 13 weeks I plan to share:

12 weeks to go: Explain how I’m shaping my goal

11 weeks to go: Creating my performance profile

10 weeks to go: Developing my goal setting

9 weeks to go: Highlighting how I incorporate my values into my training

8 weeks to go: Identifying my weaknesses – and how I will try to overcome them

7 weeks to go: Identifying my strengths & turning one of these into my super strength

6 weeks to go: Using a training diary properly

5 weeks to go: Developing a magic mantra

4 weeks to go: Working on my what if plan

3 weeks to go: Designing my imagery around the marathon moment I’m most scared about

2 weeks to go: Chunking down my race and planning out tactics for each section

1 week to go: Creating my confidence booster

And to keep myself accountable I’ll be blogging it weekly – because I hope knowing that I have to type about it will scare my lazy self into following exactly what my coach sets. I know it won’t be easy. I have a business to run, amazing clients to see, an awesome three year old daughter I love hanging out with and a book deadline five days before Marathon date (yup – genius planning there!) but I’m genuinely excited about the challenge and knowing there might be someone out there following my journey should give me the kick up the bum I need to stay focused and diligent and consistent until April 5th when I get to run Paris…

 

Social media: Motivator or Monster

Runners World Podcast.pngI was recently asked by Runners World to talk on their podcast about how runners use social media. I love this subject (and spend far too much time on social media myself) so really enjoyed the chat. I haven’t been brave enough to listen to it yet so don’t know if they kept the bits in where Peppa Pig started playing in the background, my daughter wandered in for hugs and when the postman rang the doorbell! I should not attempt to multitask!

Anyway – I usually work with athletes on using social media for their personal promotion, sponsorship and reputation but it was interesting to think about when as amateur athletes we can use it to benefit our sport – and when to consider staying away.

There tend to be lots of extreme views on social media: Either it is amazing or dreadful. I’m actually in the middle – sometimes it can be brilliant, other times not so much.

It can be brilliant for motivation, for reducing loneliness, for finding exciting challenges, for analysing our data to make improvements and for keeping in contact with coaches or other athletes. But it can also increase our risk of exercise addiction, mean we get overly competitive, compare ourselves too much (and usually negatively), become less honest with ourselves and others about our sport (we end up giving a highlights reel rather than honest information), not do sessions properly (as it might make us look slow) and get goal creep where we try to hit online goals instead of real ones.

Community

One of the huge benefits is the feeling of community. I did some research a few years ago into Ultra Endurance athletes (Runners, Cyclists, Swimmers and Triathetes) and found that in order to do the training required (at the right distance and intensity) they often need to train alone and that gets very lonely. They enjoy having social links and a community to engage with afterwards. There is a theory of motivation called Self-Determination Theory and it says that in order to be truly motivated and perform well you need three pillars in place: Autonomy to make your own decisions, Competency (i.e. good skills to know what you are doing) and Community (to know you are not alone). Social media can give you this community is you are regularly training alone.

Expanding horizons

Social media is also a great way to expand horizons – and increase your belief that you could attempt new things. Not only to see amazing races talked about but we might see people who seem a bit like us doing them, we get some vicarious confidence from this and maybe more likely to enter. All the posts about fairly new mums like Jasmin Paris and Sophie Power racing ultras while breastfeeding certainly inspired me to get entering my own races. But, if I’d been in a bad place with my own running, or struggling with a newborn, then actually seeing these amazing runners ‘doing it all’ may have just made me feel like a failure. So how we interpret what we see if usually not based on the content itself but our own perceptions, traits and current life situation.

Holding yourself to account

Social can be a good way to holding yourself to account – and many athletes have talked about how they know they have to finish because they know people will be looking out for their results. So they may well be more compelled to stick with it.

But… sometimes it can be an additional pressure we don’t need. I have spoken to athletes for research who have gone out for a run and been actively relieved when their Garmin ran out of battery as they could just enjoy the run knowing it wouldn’t be uploaded so couldn’t be judged by others. Also, sometimes sticking with a goal is not always right for us. We could be injured, have a period of illness, have a big setback in another part of our life and it makes perfect sense to abandon the goal for a while. Why should we have to explain that on social to everyone. A good rule of thumb is to remember you own your data and you own your story and you don’t owe these to anyone else.

Additional pressure

Some people will certainly find social media inspiring. Seeing amazing races, brilliant venues, fantastic courses and medals can make you want to join in. But it can also cause lots of pressure to be inspiring. And some days we aren’t, we are simply trying to shuffle our way through the day till bedtime. If we are on a ‘shuffle’ day then what we sometimes see as inspiration can become comparison. Comparison is so dangerous and yet it is so hard not to do it. We are all on different journeys. We all have different genes, backgrounds, environments, goals, personalities and preferences. Comparing ourselves to others – especially when we are usually comparing our warts and all self to someone else’s highlights – will only make us feel rubbish.

We need a large amount of scepticism when scrolling through social – and to always remember unless the person you are comparing yourself to is your identical twin, you have had a very different background and journey from them!

Data demons

Sites like Strava can be fantastic for storing your data. You can learn from it, spot patterns and increase your self-awareness of how you cope in your sport. It can be great to look back over to see what you were doing prior to a step up in improvement, or before an injury. But – it can mean every session becomes a competition. If you are naturally competitive then instead of competing weekly you end up competing with yourself or others every day. This means you don’t do the right type of training. You end up going too fast, or with too much intensity or lifting higher weights as you are worried about how people (or yourself) will judge your data. This increases risk of injury – and reduces performance gains. In fact, do it too much and you’ll get burnout and your performance will actually fall.

We can also start to focus on numbers rather than feelings. I interviewed someone who was training for a marathon and in the build up started joining in an online running group who were all aiming to get their weekly mileage up to 100 miles a week. The athlete hit the mileage but got a stress fracture from overtraining and was unable to perform at her best in the marathon.

This can be similar with online groups where you all sign up to a streak of training. They can be really good for some people – I have done a month long run streak (running at least 30 minutes a day, every day) when I knew I was in a busy period and would need additional motivation to exercise. But telling everyone means it is harder to stop when you may need to (with a niggle or injury) and this can cause longer term harm, and ironically reduce how much you can exercise.

When to turn off the social

When you find social media is sucking the joy out of your running turn it off. I remember interviewing a fantastic runner about her use of Strava and she said after a long period of injury she was getting back to fitness and went for a run. She said she loved it. She was by the river and took it easy and came home with a big smile on her face. She uploaded the run to Strava and instantly saw her brother had run faster and her friends had run further. She said she then felt like a failure. That wonderful morning by the river doing the thing she loved the most and it was the data afterwards that sucked all the joy from it.

So use it to make friends, find great races or courses, learn about running from experts but don’t trust everything which is said (or shown) and don’t make yourself vulnerable by giving away too much info.

Learning from the best: Jasmijn Muller – mental toughness

J Muller 1

Jasmijn is the current World 24 hour Time Trial champion. She is known for her mental toughness. Her she talks about those elements of her training and racing where that mental toughness really shines through.

 

 

 

 

On picking her challenges…

My awareness of challenges usually comes through reading, hearing about or seeing others do cool things. For something to grasp my interest sufficiently to then become a goal, there needs to be an emotional connection (it needs to excite me and make my heart buzz) as well as a logistical fit (with work, lifestyle and support network). It either needs to be a step up from something I have done before (e.g. stepping up from a 12/24-hour to a multiple day/week challenge) or something entirely new that nonetheless allows me to build on skills/strengths developed to date (e.g. going from long distance supported to unsupported racing). Essentially, the goal needs to scare and excite me in equal measures and allow opportunities for self-development and learning. I am not someone who enjoys doing the same thing year in year out.

On sticking to goals…

I keep a blog and use social media as much to share my journey with others (to take something from both my successes and failures) as a way to commit myself to my goals. Sharing goals helps with accountability and also provides opportunities for social connections, support and advice. I also find it essential to work with a coach to help me set out the steps I will need to take to work towards my goals and to give feedback on my progress. If left to my own devices it is just too easy to either overdo it or to put off things to tomorrow. I am goal-driven, but also know when to be flexible when life gets in the way. I don’t like unfinished business. I don’t expect to achieve my goals upon my first attempt, but as long as the desires to achieve a goal still burns strong enough, I’ll keep pursuing its, even if that means that I will need to move the goal posts or delay the challenge. There are times where it is hard to stay focused, especially when planning and preparing for a goal over a prolonged period of months or even years. But those moments are easily overcome by reminding myself how badly I want to achieve this goal (breaking the solo women’s cycling record from Land’s End to John o’Groats).

On how she approaches training…

Key steps are to define the goal, identify the key ingredients required to successfully achieve my goal and asses those areas where I am currently weak. It is important for me to keep a training diary for physical training, but also keep feedback notes about how I was feeling during those sessions, what I ate and drank, what logistics I experimented with etc. I like to keep lists and enjoy ‘ticking’ off things or seeing TrainingPeaks boxes turn green when completed. It is also important for me to work on both weaknesses and strengths. If I only work on improving weaknesses I can loose motivation and feel down about my abilities. It is nice to mix things up with a few sessions where I get to work on strengths and feel more in control of things. I am happy working on my own, but also enjoy being able to call on others and use them as a soundboard. From time to time I get carried away by wanting to enter additional challenges or events that I know full well do not contribute to my overarching goal, but just seem so much fun and are are so tempting. In moments like these I would contact my coach for his opinion. Usually this results in weighing up my underlying motivations for wanting to do those challenges and identifying to what extent they are distractions or can usefully serve the bigger goal.

On how she approaches racing…

I certainly have done plenty of races where I just hoped for the best or set off way to fast, hoping/thinking I may be able to hold on, but I have become more and more methodical over time. I no longer leave things to luck. Much of the goal I am working towards hinges on good planning and preparation. That includes planning of the route (e.g.potential road works, closed bridges, peak traffic times), planning the logistics (e.g. support vehicles, available drivers, crew manuals), adjusting my nutrition to the route profile, weather and intensity of effort (e.g. timing, type of nutrition, location of handups) and selecting appropriate equipment and kit, to name but a few. Planning for my goal is complicated by the fact that it does not just concern me, but also the support team. My challenge is dictated by the weather and thus complicated by not knowing when it will actually take place until 48 hour or maximum 72 hours in advance. This has implications on available support crew, travel and accommodation arrangements and also has financial implications. To be best prepared for this uncertainty and last-minute mayhem it is crucial to have a very detailed master plan ready that can be put into motion at short notice, that gives enough guidance yet is flexible enough to adapt on the go. This is where support from others is vital and where as an athlete I want to be able to delegate, switch off and just focus on my physical and mental preparations. I have tried to do it all myself in the past and learned that that does not work and something has to give.

For important races, I recce the route and take a detailed look at the wind, weather, road surface etc and use specialised software to allow me to assess the required power profile to achieve the target speed or distance I will have targeted for that event and to model my pacing plan. Nutrition, bike set up and kit will be tailored to the challenge and tested in training.I make packing lists, pack the night before and I even make diary entries and set reminders on the day for what time I need to get changed, when I need to start my warm up, what time I need to make my way to the start etc. The routine helps me to stay focused.

On her motivation…

My underlying motivation for long distance riding is based on a mix of performance goals and self-development goals. Although I enjoy just riding long distances, I think I would get bored if there wasn’t a competitive element in at least some of my rides. Long distance racing satisfies my need for speed AND my need for adventure. I am an ambitious person but also a curious and fiercely independent person. Long distance racing allows me to explore and expand my physical and mental boundaries; it allows me to grow as an athlete, but more importantly to grow as a person.

My immediate motivation for breaking the LEJOG record is three-fold. There is the personal performance challenge: I want to take that next step up from being successful at 24-hour races to something twice the length. Then there is the romantic pull: Racing across the length of a country under my own steam and hopefully following in the footsteps or some phenomenal male and female heroes who have achieved this feat before me. It is this impressive and unique history that, if successful, gives my attempt meaning and hopefully inspires someone else to break my record in turn. Although it is important not to let emotions take the overhand while I am actually racing, it is important to me that my goals are underpinned by a strong passion/emotion. That ties in with the final part of my specific motivation for wanting to break the LEJOG record: It is also an important way to raise money for Cancer Research UK, the charity through which I got involved with cycling in the first place, that I want to give back to each time I ‘up’ the challenge and which does such important work to help find cures for one of the leading causes of death.

On owning her performances…

In time trialling (the type of racing I mostly do) it is not uncommon to see athletes making excuses. It often even starts before the events with comments or social media posts like ‘Not the ideal preparation for this race due to …’ a busy week at work, illness, injury, sleep issues , you name it, ‘but hoping for the best’. After often amazing performances, this may then be followed by a comment like ‘happy with my time of x or nth position, despite aforementioned issues, being held up by traffic, a headwind, etc etc’. Yet, all participants face more or less the same conditions and in races like that most people are amateurs and have to deal with the realities of life intervening. I can’t say that I haven’t been guilty of such comments myself in the past, but when you fall short of your goals, you are ultimately better off focusing on those things that were entirely within your control and reviewing what you can do to improve than to dwell on the excuses of external factors.

Success is never mine alone. I have a strong support network of friends and family enabling to do these races and work with a coach, sports psychologist and sports massage therapist to put me in the best possible physical and mental condition. Many of the races I do are supported races and rely on volunteering friends and family handing up bottles by the side of the road at all times of the day and night. I couldn’t have won National 24 and World 24 hour TT championships without their support.

On bouncing back after a failure…

It is important to realise that failure is always an option. Of course, this depends on how you define success, but success is never guaranteed. Whether in sport or in business, people tend to look for ‘top tips’ for success or ‘best practice’ examples. Nobody deliberately strives for failure, but failure can also be a gift that ultimately helps you grow. And that, after all, is what I am seeking from pushing my boundaries in cycling. It is about the journey of self-discovery and development, more so than a hunt for fast times, records, titles or any other badges that may be the tangible results.

Success is great. It is what we all strive for and what everyone wants to hear about. Sometimes success happens because of sheer luck; more often it comes as a result of hard work and a lot of trial and error. But when you succeed, it is easy not to query enough why you were successful and what you can learn from it. Failure can be a bitter pill to swallow, but also a great opportunity for self-reflection, to evaluate why things went wrong and what you can do next time to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap again. Failure helps to build resilience, grit and determination to succeed at the next attempt. Failure is a gift we should perhaps all permit ourselves to at least consider as a plausible and valuable option.

It is important to allow some time to deal with the disappointment. You need to get those emotions out of your system. For me that is often by taking some time out, by doing some different things, by realising that there is more to life and that sports performances and achievements (or failures), do not define who you are, they are just part of what you do. After that, my analytical mind is usually keen to assess what went wrong and why, and if I still feel strong about my goal, to identify how to improve next time and make a game plan for the next challenge or next opportunity to try and achieve that goal after all. Sometimes, I work through these steps alone, but often I involve others be it as soundboards or to get a different view on things.

Failure forces you to be honest with yourself. It forces you to pause and reflect.  I have seen people ‘fail’ big goals only to realise that they were chasing the wrong goal for the wrong reasons. The beautiful thing about amateur sports is that we have choice. As long as your goals give you a buzz and fill you with excitement, keep chasing your dreams. If not, take a break, refocus and find something else that makes you happy.