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.

Learning from the best: Matt Jones

Matt Jones Frames of MindA few weeks ago I got the chance to interview the freestyle mountain biker, Matt Jones. I work with lots of cyclists but none of them are yet doing the kind of tricks that Matt routinely fits into his rides and I was fascinated to find out how he approaches something that is so risky.

Matt’s tricks got noticed by Red Bull who offered him an amazing opportunity to create a video showcasing his skills. However there was one problem. On the day he was supposed to start practicing and designing the course he was injured. He couldn’t ride. Here he tells us how he overcame that huge hurdle (and the daily hurdles which come with his sport) to make the beautiful film: Frames of Mind.

He prepares really really well so he feels more confident and relaxed…

“If you are very relaxed and not paying attention to risks and importance of doing everything properly you are basically putting yourself at risk. There are riders like that who go into things with very little care and it is quite amazing to watch them and they really go big but they have either very short careers or spend a lot of time with their feet up with broken bones! So I think to have the approach and go into things with a very focused mindset about where your limitations are and where you are very calm and confident within yourself as a rider and kind of maximise what you are good at that’s really important and then you can be more relaxed then and have faith and know what you are capable of. Whereas if every trick you are going to do back to back consistently feels high risk to you then you are going to be super stressed about the whole thing and that is a difficult way to be.”

He focuses only on his tricks, no-one else’s…

“Something I’ve found more useful lately is not look so much at what everyone else is doing because that is always quite hard, you are always comparing yourself to the competition so if you just stay in your lane and focus in your own thing and however you are judged, you are judged, and however well you do, you do, but as long as you do that it takes a massive level of stress away from the whole thing and pressure because you just do what you know you can and spend all day practicing.”

“It is super hard when you are all practicing for a competition and there is someone practicing the most amazing tricks in practice. It used to put me on a downer and think there is no way I could do that and accepting that you are not as good as someone is quite tricky especially when you are at an event, or just before but I sometimes find it easier now just to reframe things and if someone is doing a trick I know I would struggle to do or am not happy to do in practice, if anything it is an opportunity to watch them do it and seeing someone else do it makes you realise it is possible, you don’t have to be the first guy to do it.”

He sets really realistic goals…

“If I go to a contest where I think I can win and if you don’t win you are really on the back foot. Whereas I went to an event this year where I changed my outlook and I went for the top ten because I’d been injured leading up to it and so I thought what am I here for; am I here to win or would I be happy in the top ten. When I accepted that I was just going to chill out a bit and just accept the result I got and if it was in the top ten I would be happy it made everything so much easier. I even enjoyed the contest day because I was doing stuff I knew I would be happy with. I got ninth so really happy with that actually. It wasn’t my best result of this year but one where I was really happy because what I set out to do I achieved and that is the same as setting out to win and winning really.”

He uses lots of visualisation…

“With this video project I used visualisation out of necessity. I was injured at the start of it, when we went into building the course. I was injured so I couldn’t practice anything or even try out the jumps we were building so I was basically having to give dimensions and features I was telling the builders to make and I was having to look at them enough that I thought they were definitely perfect and trust when it came to filming on them they would be ready to go. But it was quite hard. Some of the stuff I did for the first time when we were filming. The day the cameras were set up and ready to go that was the first day I was doing the jumps. I had to do tricks I’ve never done before so it felt like real high pressure but I was pretty confident it was built to the right spec and that it was going to work.”

“It helped to be there and look at it with my own eyes and imagining it, definitely in slow motion and then speed things up. I found that if I did that enough, when it actually came to doing it for real on my bike it didn’t feel new. It felt almost familiar which is quite cool. Generally, if you do something for the first time you have no idea about the outcome but with these tricks it didn’t even feel new. When it worked I didn’t even feel surprised because it had worked in my head so many times.”

“I could lie on the sofa and I could go over and look at the course and use that time to visualise riding it. Now I’m not injured and I’m back riding every day I’m still using it now to bring that element of risk down and try to get to the end goal quicker. It is super useful to be honest.”

Uses other people’s confidence in him to build his own confidence…

“I’d be lying if I said every time I was starting to work on a new trick knowing the filming was coming up I could capture it. I never was 100% sure but I had to tools to make it work and a bit of mental strength to go with it but there is always that element of risk and some stuff doesn’t go. I think the confidence came from a bit of self-belief and the drive to make the most of the opportunity with this video. Because I’ve never had that before. If it wasn’t for this big project I’d probably have tried a trick a few times and if it wasn’t working I’d have left it but because everything had been built in a bespoke way and these tricks had been worked out it almost felt like I had no choice but to keep working on it and there was enough push from people around me to see it through which was really cool. On normal typical jumps I ride, if I wanted to do a trick for a video or contest and it wasn’t working I’d find the next best one and compromise but with this because everything was so specific and tailor made there was no compromise it was the trick I’d written down or nothing. There was a lot of pressure riding on ‘will it even work’ because if it doesn’t that is a whole idea gone out of the window. There was pressure but also opportunity with you have that thing you have asked for to make this work; let’s do it. So that was a massive benefit and a level of excitement that I had the opportunity to do it and I didn’t want to let that one away really.”

 

Thoughts… negative, positive or helpful?

We so often talk about positive or negative thoughts. And much of the work from a cognitive behavioural perspective (that many sport psychologists work from) pushes the idea of identifying and then reframing our negative thoughts into more positive ones. This can be really effective but it takes a lot of practice and can feel really awkward to begin with. I’ve also realised that for some of us our negative thoughts can actually be quite helpful. A thought which may feel negative like: “I’m not good enough to be in this race” can actually be quite helpful for making us try to work harder in the race so as not to embarrass ourselves. Or I often justify to myself: “It’s ok – at least I’m doing something” when actually I’m not working as hard as I should be. So while the thought is positive, it is pretty unhelpful at making me work at the intensity my coach wanted me to be working at.

Over time I’ve started to think instead about not separating our thoughts into negative or positive ones but instead into helpful and unhelpful ones. To me it feels a little less awkward to reframe unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones. And gives us a little bit of separation from the mood we happen to be in that day where we may over interpret everything as positive or negative.

So, think about the thoughts you’ve had during your last match, or race or training session and classify them into unhelpful and helpful.

For the unhelpful thoughts:

  • What am I thinking?
  • Why am I thinking this?
  • What would I prefer to have been feeling right then?
  • What thought would be helpful to achieving that?

For the helpful thoughts?

  • What did that thought help me do?
  • Which future situations can I use it again for?

Doing this process regularly can help you become much more self-aware of which thoughts are helpful and which ones are sabotaging your goals.

Seven tactics to stop comparing ourselves against others

In sport comparison is inescapable. If you are racing or competing there will always be numbers ranking us, digitizing us, making easy comparison to anyone else. It is a very quick way for athletes to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem. This social comparison can be harsh as someone else will always be better than you. Even Bolt got beaten. And Research has found that the harder we are on ourselves the harder it is to regain our motivation and we are less likely to achieve the goals we do set so, the more we compare, the worse we will do.

You can only compare effectively if you are starting from the same starting blocks as the person you are comparing to. We are each too unique to compare fairly. Even identical twins will have different personality traits, different talents and different motivations. But we never are. So comparison puts focus on something you have absolutely no control over putting yourself in an unwinnable, and very frustrating situation. To get on top of this negative comparison here are seven tactics to try:

  1. Focus on temporal comparison where you look at how you are doing compared to where you were in the past and where would you like to get to. You can then make clear steps and plans to get where you want to go and this helps you feel much more in control. In doing this we become more self-aware and can understand our motivations and ambitions better. If we tie this in with our own values we can feel authentic in the route we take. To identify these values ask yourself three questions:
    • What do you want to be remembered for?
    • When you look back over this year what will you need to achieve to feel proud?
    • What are the three values that matter most to you?

Once we look deeply at the ‘then, now and the future,’ and understand our values which support that then everything is in the open it is much easier to confront and deal with it.

  1. Remind yourself that the perfection you see in others is just an illusion. We only see the instagramable perfection of other’s lives. Research found people more likely to show positive emotions than negative ones and that we each tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others. This means we a comparing our lives with an incomplete picture of someone else’s. You may see the great race result a club mate had but not the pain they have gone through in training. You see the picture perfect family day posted on facebook but not the mega tantrum two minutes before the shots were taken. There is always a far more realistic story behind it.
  2. We beat ourselves up for not ‘trying hard enough’ yet we are on a different journey in life to other people and were born with different advantages. There is a great saying – don’t measure yourself against someone else’s ruler. If you compare yourself to other people around you those people start become enemies, instead of your friends. Benchmarking their successes to evaluate ourselves against will make us jealous and bitter rather than supportive and excited for them. If you find yourself succumbing to this then a good point to remember is that we become like those we surround ourselves with. Surrounding ourselves with successful, ambition and hard working people and some of those elements will brush off on us – so it is not just altruistic, it is actually in our own interests for those around us to do well.
  3. Celebrate your uniqueness. What do you love about you? Forget being humble. What is great about you? What values do you have, what traits do you love, when do you feel proud?
  4. Remember and document your successes – keep a diary or a ‘jar of joy’ and note down when you have been proud of something you have worked hard towards and achieved. When you find yourself starting to compare with others pull out a note and read through it.
  5. Find things that matter to you which cannot be measured. Race times, school grades, work appraisals all use numbers and are very easy for us to use to compare to each other. But some of the loveliest things in life can’t be compared. Seeing an amazing view from a mountain you have climbed, drinking the perfect cocktail on a lovely beach, eating fish and chips with your best mate on a park bench putting the world to rights, a run along the river where you come up with a solution to a problem you’ve been ruminating over, taking a picture of a friend or child that completely captures their personality, making someone’s day by baking them a cake they weren’t expecting. All things which have no measurement, but will bring you, and often someone else a little piece of joy.
  6. If you can’t help yourself comparing then study the person you are envious of and understand what it is you envy and then work out how you can achieve that. If they are famous then read interviews or autobiographies. Pull out the envy element and make a plan for how you can develop that. Write down three things you could learn from them to help you get closer to what they have achieved? When you find yourself starting to get jealous look over these, remind yourself you are on a different journey to them, and pick one of the things you can learn from them as your goal for the next week.

 

 

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!

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.

What is your mantra?

I recently asked a group of marathon runners at a Performance In Mind talk about their mantras. My supervisor, who was watching, pointed out afterwards that ‘mantra’ isn’t a word that lives in everyone’s day to day dictionary. He had a point! Though the idea of them is probably a lot more common since social media and the internet began drowning in well intended memes though! 

In short, a mantra is a short phrase or even a single word that can remind you why you are doing what you are doing. It can be incredibly helpful if you start to struggle when training or racing. It can come from one of three areas: something which reminds you of your motivation for racing (“I’m running for those who can’t), something which reminds you of your goal (“That medal is mine”) or something which is more technical and helps keep your technique on track (“Pick up your feet”). 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.

The justification for incorporating a mantra into your race tool kit comes from the 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. If we consciously make our self-talk positive we can behave it a way which is much more beneficial to our racing ambitions. Using self-talk effectively has been found to boost confidence and increase your perseverance. A great piece of research presented recently came from Alister McCormick at the university of Kent who 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.

So how to pick your mantra?

  • It needs to be personal to you.
  • It needs to be positive – to either remind you of your motivation, your goal or your technique.
  • 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 a few months ago. 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.

What is your mantra?