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?

Learning from the best: Eddie Brocklesby

Eddie Brocklesby at the Serpentine.

Photo credit: Susanne Hakuba

Dr Edwina Brocklesby (or Eddie as she is known) is 72. She is possibly the best advert there can be for the benefits of staying active as you age. Having started exercising aged 50 she has since run dozens of half marathons and marathons, triathlons, cycle sportives and Ironman races. She has represented GB in many European and World triathlon and duathlon championships, including the Ironman World Champs in Kona, and rode in a relay 3000 plus miles across America. Her retirement from social work saw her take over the reins at an adoption agency for children born into difficult circumstances and when she retired for a second time she set up the charity Silverfit. In just a couple of years Silverfit has grown from a few friends meeting for a walk in Hyde Park to weekly activities including walking football, spinning, track cycling, pilates and cheerleading) in parks right across London. Eddie and her mass of red hair can usually be found leading the way, whether running the session, filling in grant and funding forms, speaking to the medical world about how to motivate older people to stay active or just having a chat and a cuppa with Silverfit attendees.

Last year Eddie became the oldest British female to complete an Ironman (Swim 3.8k, Cycle 180k, Run 42.2k). I caught up with Eddie for a chat about how she approaches races to see what we can all learn from the doyen of the older exercise world. The race we focused on was Ironman Lanzarote. One of the hardest Ironman races in the world and one which beat her in 2015. So she is heading back in May with a goal to get her own back on the race and cross that finish line.

So you have signed up to Lanzarote. How you plan to approach it?

The first thing I did was sign up to do a swim course in Lanzarote. I know that if I am there all week then I will get the biking in. You can’t swim all day!  And I will make certain that I go across to Puerto Del Carmen to do the swim there in the sea a couple of times. So that is the first thing I will do. I’ll also go out to do a week with Steve Trew which only leaves me a week before Lanzarote so it is tight really in terms of busting a gut, in terms of the bike, but nevertheless it is hilly biking.

You’ve got to beat the bike cut off haven’t you. To finish I need to beat the bike cut off. I can walk round the marathon if I need to. I don’t need to get in much before midnight. I’d sooner minimize the pressure on my knees. And I’m very conscious of not doing any more running than I have to really. I will start upping my running later on but I’m not doing very much at the moment.

Getting out on the bike will be key so I’ve booked up to go over to the Algarve. It is totally unspoilt and I wonder why it is not more popular. The roads are empty and the whole main road from Faro to Lisbon is a smooth road, undulating surface and there is nothing on it. One lorry a day because they’ve all gone on the motorway. So I love it there.

And swimming?

I guess it is about doing more distance. I’m very good at getting into a pool for half an hour. Dan [Swim for Tri] will say it is all about doing drills and I’m not so good at doing that. Brett Sutton wrote a brilliant article about using a pull bouy last year and I know I could do hundreds of lengths with a pool bouy cause I’ve got quite heavy legs so I go much faster with it. But I spent a lot of my swim time up to Lanzarote last year with a pull bouy and I think, for me, that was probably totally erroneous and that is probably what led to the cramp cause I haven’t had to kick that hard for a long long time. So I’m trying very hard. Even using flippers because that does make you kick. So I think Brett was wrong for old people. What he said was use it as much as you like cause if it gets you into the pool then it is good but I use that as a complete crutch.

You’ve said before that swimming is the thing you like least. What is it that drives you to get in the water and train?

It is the ultimate challenge. The area I like least. But it is absolutely key. And now obviously it is a decision to do the Ironman again. I got a bit better last year. Lanzarote was an unfortunate blip on that. That second lap of the swim and the current. The current changed. Never ever will I forget that point out on the far point of turning round and swimming over a rock that felt like it was as big as a table and ten strokes more and you are still on top of the bloody rock and it was about five minutes after that I cramped for the first time.

And how did you get through that?

I didn’t know whether you could send for a canoeist and put your hand up and be pulled out or not. I really didn’t know. I just think relaxing, just lying horizontal and hoping that it would go away and slowly, very slowly continuing for the next few hundred metres. I was on the last 800 metres so that drives you as you are nearly there. I had no idea I was as near to the cut off as I actually was. I knew I’d been a bit slower, quite a bit slower in the first half than I would normally reckon on being but there is something about the memory of that. That spurs me on.

Spurred on by the fear of failure or wanting to do it better?

It is absolutely fear of failure. How do you deal with failure? Which is how I perceived it at the end. Going to the pub the following weekend to see my son [who had also raced] wearing his finishers t-shirt!

Dan proposed that if you swim seven or eight days on the trot you will swim better and I thought it would be important to do. I’m on day three today. Once you get in I find, even if you just do five lengths, you always feel better having swum. So it is almost telling yourself I know I’m going to feel better when I come out the water.

So drawing on previous experience and constantly reminding yourself you can do it?


When Lanza was not going well last year. How did you deal with that in your head?

I don’t think I know. I was around El Golfo when the police car overtook me, waved at me and then dropped off behind me. I was at least 3k further on before I realised that meant something. They followed me all the way up to the top of Fire Mountain and I remember getting to the top of that and turning round and then I did overtake another cyclist at lost my lovely police escort. But up until then it was fun actually because you knew all these cars were treating you with real respect cause you’ve got a police car flashing its light behind you. So it was fun. I don’t think I was really expecting the cut off time was going to be held, no-one did. So it was quite a shock when you are in the vehicle going down with your bike behind. But you know I’ve done it twice before and at that point you think ‘well ok, it was so windy’. That day we were surprised to be racing. They must have been right on the edge of cancelling it.

Did that help you deal with it better?

No it didn’t to my surprise. Intellectually you knew. A friend came in on the dot of midnight and is a far more powerful swimmer than me so you realise everyone’s times were longer. But a week or so later you think ohhh how am I going to deal with that. Your automatic assumption was to sign up again but I hadn’t got the courage to do that. I didn’t believe I could do it. I’ve still got my doubts. So Vichy Ironman came along as an option. Even that was a tough race. I think it was 96 degrees for 8 hours on the bike and we were cramping. Everyone was cramping. The same number didn’t finish that race as didn’t finish Lanzarote. There were quite a few ambulances around and people lying on the ground desperately trying to stretch.

What do you think helped you get through that cramp and the heat when others couldn’t?

A month before I was doing London Triathlon and my seat post broke with about 13k to go. I had to literally stand all the rest of the way and then wondered if it was possible to run after that. I could imagine my sons laughing and thinking it absolutely pathetic that I couldn’t get through 10k and how could I do an Ironman if I couldn’t do that. So I ran. And I think it helped me in Vichy cause I knew I could stand when I got the cramps. Probably other people didn’t realise that you know if you stand up on the bike for a good kilometre or 2 then you could sit down and you wouldn’t get the same cramp and I guess other people hadn’t tried that.

I realized that I could get good publicity for Silverfit and it would be greater if I had completed an Ironman rather than said I’d failed. That motivated me on the bike at Vichy.

I also had a real anger level with WTC if I’m honest. The Ironman brand had been sold to the Wanda group just 2 days before for $650m and it was really heart rendering to see the state of some of those volunteers out there. On every junction you have four volunteers for 9 or 10 hours in 96 degrees and they were suffering and they’d all had enough and I thought that “is this what Wanda have bought for $650 million. And those volunteers getting nothing but a goodie bag and a supper.” So yes there was anger.

Have you got a pre-race routine?

I probably avoid alcohol. For a while I would go out 24 hours earlier and push myself and then take on a carb drink. The High 5 guys had researched it at Glasgow University and it did seem to unlock your ability to absorb the carbs so I did do that. I sleep quite well. It is normality that helps me. I have the same breakfast I normally do. I think it is more important to do things that are part of your routine rather than doing something different or specific. Gives you comfort. Puts you in the right mind set. Relaxes you.

How do you feel on the beach before you start a race?

I think it depends on whether I have left myself sufficient time or not. I’m very chaotic at the last minute. Have I got this? Have I got that? And anyway I know I’m going to the back you know so I don’t need to get to that flag any earlier than a minute before the final whistle.

Would you not feel more comfortable if you were more prepared earlier?

Yes. You are always trying to squash something else in aren’t you. And that is my problem. If there is five minutes to spare then I can do this, this and this. And that is why I am late usually. So yes I get anxious but I quite like that. I don’t know how I’ll feel this time which is why I need to go in and prepare, build the adrenaline. My father did a lot of public speaking and I remember him saying the more nervous you are the better you are going to perform.

Do you like getting new ideas around sport and researching them?

I have a research background. Not just in terms of my PhD but prior to that I’d always been, well I did statistics and economics at university and psychology. But in sport I do confirm to a timetable which Annie [Emmerson, Triathlon coach] says do this and do that. But you can’t always fit it in so you are juxtaposing and mix and matching but essentially more or less you are doing the total of what is put on it. I read remarkably little on what I should be doing. I have had a four page article on pedal technique but I haven’t read it yet. I have been carrying this article around with me for months to read about pedal technique as I am sure I can optimise my pedalling.

I did used to listen to lots of podcasts based on exercise research. Especially the Fitness Rocks podcasts. When I first heard those it had a massive influence on me as I was then running quite long distances listening to them. I listened to ever so many of those podcasts and that was leading research every week.

How do you cope with sessions you don’t enjoy?

I clock watch dreadfully. Even spin sessions are clock watched. Only another ten minutes to go. Or count to 100 and you’ll get to the top of that hill you know. I can switch off and write a report. I found when doing marathons you can get to about 5k and you can’t count any more but that the brain is quite good at creative stuff. Although some would say that takes away from your technique. Dan says “I can see when you are thinking about Silverfit!”

Lots of people say that you inspire them. But who inspires you?

The best most inspirational speaker I have heard for a long time is Sarah Winkless. She is a three time Olympic rower but when she was 18 she had just gone to Cambridge, she found out she didn’t get into the Commonwealth Games team and that her mother had Huntingdon’s and she herself was tested and is positive. I thought Sarah was absolutely brilliant. She is a very good speaker. Very few notes and spoke for 30-40 minutes in front of an audience who were mostly medics.

What did you take away from it?

If she can survive and thrive aren’t we all lucky. She has a cloud hanging over her but maybe the latest technology and learnings about the brain may be able to alleviate or alter it somehow. I am fascinated by what makes some people be positive as opposed to negative in tough situations. In her I saw a driven, positive, psychological driving factor that will enable some people to see they are the lucky one which will push them on. That ability to see things positively.

You say that after your husband died you always thought you were the lucky one and wanted to make the most of what you had. What gave you that positive mindset?

I am a great believer in attachment theory. The idea that as a child you need to develop a strong, trusted relationship with a least one primary caregiver for you to be able to have successful social and emotional development. I’ve always believed the care I got as a child has allowed me to have such a positive resilient attitude as an adult. My experience of 50 years in social work shows that good attachment is immeasurably valuable. It doesn’t have to be a parent. I thought Mary Soames, the youngest of the Churchill kids was an absolutely brilliant woman, very warm, very caring, very rooted and she grew up with very good consistent nannies. I think that consistency from a very young age, even as a tiny baby, of knowing you are responded to, makes a big difference.

And do you think that 50 years in social work has given you a better perspective when doing your sports stuff?

Most certainly. It influences my whole persona. So it must do. Yes. I would never have dreamt I’d be doing this sort of mad sports stuff when I was social working but I’m sure there must be a link. I’m proudest of the first half marathon. The fact I could prove to my husband that I could do it. And I did it. It kept me going.

Do you see any benefits of having started competing later in life?

Lots of people who did a lot of sport when young seem to now be playing the price with hip and knee operations, especially in sports like Gymnastics and Badminton where there is lots of jumping and landing. No one wants to promote it but that is denying it happens and it may be in fact be that not starting till I was 50 was a huge bonus.

And finally, how do you celebrate after a big race?

Well that was the thing about Kona. There was no drink at all. Compare it to Lanzarote where all the bars are there and open for you. They had ice cream in Kona but no pizza and no alcohol. So having a drink I guess. It is what you have dreamt of for the last 16 hours 6 minutes and 13 seconds.

Eight lessons we can learn from Eddie

  1. When you are struggling in a race think back to other races you have completed or previous times of adversity and see if any of the experiences or lessons from those will help you now.
  2. Work out exactly what it will take you to achieve your goal and work backwards to identify what processes you need to put in place by when.
  3. Take advice from experts, but be pragmatic as to whether it applies in your situation. Most physiological research is carried out on men aged 18-35. They may respond very differently to you if you are female, or older, or both!
  4. When something goes wrong, don’t panic. Keep going slowly while you work through the options, chances are you’ll have got far enough on and the issue will have subsided.
  5. Keep in mind what is motivating you to do that race. For Eddie it was PR, a previous failure and anger. Find the thing that motivates you. And keep it in mind.
  6. Practice ways to distract yourself when stuff gets tough.
  7. Think about who inspires you, and what it is about them that inspires you. What can you learn from that to have a little bit of their super strength for yourself.
  8. Always have your own supplies ready to celebrate after a big race!

Don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Make goals. And make them sticky…

Over the next few weeks more and more thoughts and conversations will turn to New Year resolutions. They are a great way to remind yourself of what you want and to focus on achieving it. But they are really hard to keep and often not well thought through – making it even less likely you’ll stick to them. So how about not making a new year resolution. Make some goals instead.

Sports Psychologists do lots of work with their athletes to help them set, and then stick to their sporting goals, so why not learn from them how to make the right goals. Goals which are really sticky and thus easier to achieve. Research has proven that doing this works with study after study showing setting clear goals can increase your motivation, commitment, concentration and confidence, reduce negative anxiety and ultimately improve your performance.

Below is a 10-point guide to writing sticky goals.

  1. Don’t call it a New Year Resolution. If you do, when you get to that moment in January when you’ve stopped writing Happy New Year on every email (which already seems to go on for far too long!), the resolutions feel dated. So don’t have New Year Resolutions. Have Goals.
  1. Write positive, not negative goals. So rather than writing things you can’t do, such as not drinking alcohol, no eating chocolate or drink no more that eight cups of coffee a day (yes – that is a real goal I’ve seen!) write them as positive things such as I will do 30 minutes of exercise a day, I will drink 8 glasses of water. You are more likely to stick to your goals if they are things you CAN do, rather than things you CAN’T. When you hit them you’ll feel you’ve achieved something great, rather than avoided something awful.
  1. Don’t set outcome goals. These are dream goals like winning a race or getting promoted at work. And they are great for day dreaming – but you can’t control anyone else or what they do. If your goal depends on what someone else does, it doesn’t matter how much you focus or how hard you work – you are still not in control of it happening. Make your goals ones you have direct power over such as run a 10k in under 45 minutes or get an average of 4 on my performance review. If you do want to win a race, pick the race, study previous results, see what time you think it will take to win, make that time your goal and and work towards that. Someone amazing may show up and still beat you but you will have achieved your goal and got faster in the process.
  1. Have long and short term goals. If you only have something in that is a long way away it is hard to stay motivated in the build up.
  1. If you are writing sports related goals, then separate out the ones you need for training and the ones you need for racing. This will make them specific and focused.
  1. The more specific your goals the better. Rather than say: ‘I want to run faster’ a more specific and effective goal would be: ‘I want to run under 20 minutes for my 5k by June 1st.’ It is much easier to break these type of goals down so you can achieve each element required such as ‘I need to be able to run one kilometer comfortably in 4 minutes by May 1st.
  1. Make your goals a stretch, but still realistic. Too easy and you’ll underperform. Too difficult and you’ll lose motivation or destroy yourself. If you are currently struggling to reach 200 watts on a 20 minute cycling time trial, expecting to get to 300 watts in six months is probably a stretch too far and will be demotivating. But 250 could be achieved with a lot of work and will push you to keep working hard.
  1. Give your goals a deadline. Setting a deadline to your goal focuses the mind and allows you to set realistic intermediate goals to keep you on track.
  1. Make your goal exciting. What makes you passionate? What is the thing that makes you animated when you talk? Motivation will come from that passion. So take time to think through what you really really want to achieve. What will make you get out of bed to train at 5am on a cold, wet, windy, winter morning?
  1. Finally, record your goals. Everywhere. The fridge, next to your desk, with your friends, notes on your computer. You need to repeatedly see them and ideally tell someone about them to increase your commitment and accountability. The embarrassment of having to admit to someone you gave up on something which once made you so excited is a great prompt to keep going.

I’m yet to work on my goals but will be doing so over the next few weeks. Would love to hear about yours…

2016 minus a month….

Most of us start off each New Year with a list of goals and a few resolutions. By mid Feb research has found most of the resolutions have gone astray. Triathletes, Runners, Swimmers and Cyclists are usually a little bit more dedicated to achieving goals so will often last longer than the average person but by the time we are hitting the end of November it is pretty likely most of the goals have been ticked off as achieved (or got battered through injury) and many of the resolutions have become habits or fallen by the wayside.

But there is no need to write off our performance as something that can wait till next year when there is still a month to go.

Setting a goal is a great way to make sure you stay on track to achieve something. Is there a sporting goal you can hit before the end of the year? A Santa ride, a boxing day Parkrun or perhaps something a little bit different. Here are four ideas to keep you training, properly prepared for 2016 and able to work off the Christmas party drinks and the Christmas day dinner.

If running is your thing how about aiming for a advent running streak. This does not involve running in nothing but tinsel (though if that floats your boat…) but running every day of advert. 25 runs in 25 days. Check out Advent Running http://www.adventrunning.com/ or their facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/adventrunning/ it is a closed group so you have to ask to join but once on there you can mix with over 1600 members based all over the world, many of whom post daily pictures of the sights seen on that day’s run. They offer a daily spot prize for the best photo, video or written description of the day’s run and hold events throughout the month. With everyone trying to run at least 5k a day by Christmas Day it is a great motivator not to skip a day when it is cold and windy or the work Christmas party got a bit messier than planned.

Pick your favourite sport. Pick a number goal that means something to you. Your age? The number of goals your football or Rugby team has scored this season? Your house number (if high enough) and dedicate the month to achieving that amount of miles by the end of it. Tick them off as you get there with the aim being you get there early and don’t find yourself hunting for an open pool on December 31st trying to hit the target!

Create a piece of festive Strava art. It is rare for the internet to lack in anything (except niceness occasionally!) but there is very little Christmas focused Strava art. So get out there, compete with your friends. And make something a little more polished than this attempt!

Learn a mental skill that you know will help you be a better athlete next year and practice it on every training session you do till December 31st. With four weeks to practice it will be embedded by the time you kick off 2016’s training and you’ll be starting off the year already on top of your game. Learning how to use self–talk effectively, or learning how to spin negative talk into a positive is a great one to try. Info here.