Book Review: In it for the Long Run

So, hands up – I am biased. I am in this book! Just a little bit but Damian and I worked together before his epic Pennine Way record attempt in the summer of 2020 and he discusses the work we did in the book. But despite me marring the pages I still loved it.

It is full of words you are not used to seeing in grown up books (bimble, bobbins) and disgustingly full of snot and dislodged toenails and all the grim stuff that goes with running very very long distances. But it is also a history of ultra-running in the UK, talks you through the who’s who of fell and ultra-running and is written with a ton of self-deprecating humour. 

Damian writes in a way that makes you feel if you are running alongside him. The descriptions of the mountains and hills and bogs that he runs in are easy to visualise and the chats about all the race food feel real enough to taste; and I will definitely be trying both humous and avocado sandwiches and macaroons for my next long run!

I found ‘In it for the long run’ a really enjoyable way to learn about ultra-running in a funny and relaxed way.

It is available on the publishers website: In It for the Long Run – Vertebrate Publishing (

Lockdown legacy…

We tend to make our memories around milestones. Birthdays, school terms, sporting events or competitions and holidays are those pillars around which our memories attach. Except this last year. Birthdays were celebrated without physical parties, school was often at home, sporting competitions have been mainly cancelled or held behind closed doors and holidays are still missing in action. So the year full of restrictions seems to have flown by because we have fewer memories of it. In my head it only seems about three months long, punctuated by the few trips I took, the occasional visits to my mum’s garden and the box sets we devoured.

But – something I am seeing with so many athletes at the moment is that they have been able to take a year that they could have interpreted with disappointment and reflect on what they have learnt and how they have developed. So many have been able to see the sunny side of what has been a tricky time. We have been drawing these into a ‘lockdown legacy’. Like an annual report that a company would do; we can each look back over our year and pick out what we have learnt, who we have valued, identify our achievements and make better goals for the future. Below are some questions to answer to create your lockdown legacy.

Over the last year…

  • My favourite moment:
  • I am proudest of:
  • The people who supported me:
  • The people I supported:
  • The biggest belly laugh I had:
  • Something I learnt about myself:
  • I became grateful for:
  • Something I will do differently now:
  • My biggest achievement:

Create your own boost box

Whether we are going through a global pandemic (hello 2020-21), have a tough period in our lives with lots of stressors or we have clinical depression or anxiety something which can be helpful is a self-care box.

I call it a boost box as I like to think these are not just things we do to soothe ourselves but actually to give us a little push forward back to feeling more like ourselves. We put it together when we are in a good place, knowing it is sitting there waiting for us when we are struggling. I had a few ideas with my psychologist hat on of what might be useful but put a call out on twitter and got loads more brilliant ideas. So here are 24 different things which you could put into a boost box:

  1. Playlist of favourite tracks – ones you can lose yourself in
  2. A card reminding you of the rainbow technique
  3. A card reminding you to do colourful breathing
  4. A favourite childhood toy or teddy bear that makes you feel safe
  5. Small jigsaw – another brilliant way to lose yourself
  6. Colouring book and pencils
  7. A stress ball or putty you can play with
  8. Your favourite book
  9. Your favourite photo
  10. A copy of your favourite piece of art
  11. A quote or mantra which really resonates
  12. A list of the things in life you really value
  13. Really cosy socks
  14. A recipe you love cooking or baking
  15. A candle with a calming scent to light
  16. A gratitude sheet so you can add on new things you are grateful for
  17. Tissues – cause sometimes crying helps
  18. Messages from people you love
  19. Your confidence jar
  20. Bubble mixture – imagine each worry inside the bubble and watch it blow away
  21. Chocolate – just because (and I’m sure there are some good chemicals in chocolate that help us feel good)
  22. Some pieces of paper you can write down a negative belief to scrunch up and throw away.
  23. A note to yourself that you have written reminding yourself it always passes and you will feel better again.
  24. A list of 4 or 5 easy things to do which help. Some of these could be:
    • Going outside for a walk
    • Dancing in the kitchen
    • Calling a friend
    • An easy goal to achieve
    • Walking your own or a borrowed dog
    • Watching a show you find funny.
    • Exercise you find fun
    • Getting a hug.

Autobiographies: Male Track and Road runners

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

Alberto Salazar, 14 minutes –

Bill Adcocks, The Road to Athens –

Bill Jones, Ghost Runner –

Brendan Foster –

Carl Lewis, Inside Track –

Charlie Spedding, from last to first –

Colin Jackson, Autobiography –

David Hemery, Another Hurdle –

Haile Gebrselassie, The Greatest (not an autobiography but good enough to ignore that fact!) –

John Parker Jnr, Once a Runner (a novel but from the perspective of a high school runner) –

Linford Christie, An autobiography –

Meb Keflezighi, 26 Marathons –

Michael Johnson, Slaying the Dragon –

Mo Farah, Twin Ambitions –

Rob De Castella, Deek –

Roger Bannister, First Four Minutes –

Roger Black, How long’s the course  –

Ron Hill, The long hard road (part 1 & 2)-  /

Ryan Hall, Run the Mile you are in –

Sebastian Coe, Running my life –

Steve Ovett, An Autobiography –

11 tools for athletes to build mental fitness over lockdown

At the start of lockdown2 (November 2020) in the UK, Performance in Mind ran some free workshops to teach some tools and techniques that will help us cope better in lockdown and be able to come back to our sport stronger. In January 2021 when the UK went into lockdown3 we ran another session and added in an additional tool; the boost box – because what many of us need right now is a boost. The slides are available below for anyone to learn from:

10 tips for running a virtual marathon

Come Sunday morning there will be a few dozen elite athletes preparing to run 19.8 laps of St James’ Park and 45,000 everyday runners from all over the world, heading off to run their own version of the London Marathon. I have a mixture of excitement and nerves about being one of them.

When lockdown happened and my highly prepared and trained for Paris Marathon went out the window I got into a pattern of running 30 minutes each day just for basic fitness and headspace. Virtual challenges advertised on twitter got an eye roll. I was happy to wait till the real things came back.

But, when London Marathon announced spaces for the virtual run I couldn’t help myself. I moved to London when I was 18, have been here 25 years and doubt I’ll ever leave. It is home. And London Marathon is my race mecca. I had entered before thinking (a common failing in runners!) and only when emailing my coach afterwards realised I’d given myself 5 weeks to get from running a parkrun distance to managing 8.5 times that distance. Ouch.

We always say the reason you only need to go up to 20 miles in training for London is that the crowds carry you along the final 6. But on Sunday we won’t have that. We’ll be doing the distance on our own, self-supported and without the atmosphere that usually keeps us going.

So, as a Sport Psychologist what advice will I be giving myself on how to cope with being alone, not having support and not having a that amazing atmosphere.

  1. Smile every mile. Smiling is a great way of tricking our brains into thinking we are using less effort than we actually are and so can enjoy it more. If you watch beeps every mile this is a good time to give a good grin.
  2. Fill your ears. Usually at London marathon you get continual cheering and bands. We will only have quiet this time so pick your favourite ear filler: music (helps you go faster), podcasts or audiobooks and lose yourself in entertainment or knowledge. I’m planning a mixture of Hamilton songs (because my husband won’t be there to complain) and Mark Manson’s new book on relationships on Audible.
  3. Have snacks. I love working with Ultra athletes because they are all about the snacks – their races are basically eating competitions. Have something yummy on you that you get to look forward to for when everything feels a bit much.
  4. Take messages with you. Ask friends or family to put messages on a sticker which you stick to your gels. Each time you pull out a gel you get a lovely message to make you smile and feel loved.
  5. Have an instructional mantra. This is to remind yourself about good form and technique when you get tired. Mine is head up. That one instruction changes my entire stance; chest forward, shoulders back, more oxygen in, lift my feet higher and stop doing the marathon shuffle.
  6. See if anyone you love (or even like!) can be out on your course somewhere – having them to look forward to seeing will keep you going when it is tough.
  7. Expect it to be tough. 26.2 miles all alone is a big ask. No-one will find it easy – even those guys going under 2.30. There will be tough moments but if we expect them, accept them and welcome them in, we can wait for them to pass and be proud we kept going.
  8. Wear the race number you were sent – it will get you waves and smiles and help build the sense of community.
  9. Break down the route you are taking into chunks. Have a plan for each chunk; constructing a blogpost for one, counting the number of squirrels you see in the next one, seeing how many other runners you can say hello to in the third. Each chunk gives you a nice distraction.
  10. Know your why. This is most important. If you are getting up to run 26.2 miles on your own you need to know why. And you need to remind yourself of it regularly. Are you fundraising? Raising awareness? Proving something to yourself, or others? Giving yourself purpose after a crappy year? Write this reason on your hand or water bottle and when it gets tough glance down, and think through what finishing that marathon will give you, and others. Your why will be the equivalent of the crowd, getting you through that final 6 miles.

Have an awesome time on Sunday and hopefully I’ll be joining you with a virtual medal, an enormous smile and a very real pint of shandy (post marathon treat).

Podcasts for Sport Psych geeks

I love listening to podcasts to hear the stories of other sport psychs, to learn new techniques and skills, to build knowledge of new research and just for opening up my world. Here are a selection for those interested in sport psychology. If you have any other suggestions would love to hear about them on twitter: @josephineperry

Sport and Performance Psychology

Finding Mastery (Dr Michael Gervais) – A huge number of followers listen in to hear from some of the most accomplished performers in the world talk about what makes them masters of their own universes.

The Sport Psych Show (Dan Abrahams) – Dan is a qualified sports psych and over his 84 (to date) episodes has chatted with some phenomenal people who work in high sports performance. He focuses on motivation and applied tools so really helpful for those looking for activities to try. 

A Slice of PIE (Hosted by Pete Jackson) – A new podcast exploring Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) in sport, business and other performance fields. Although very new I include because I love Pete’s approach to high performance psychology and trying to understand where what is used in one sector can be really effectively repurposed in another so I’m looking forward to more coming out.

Working in sport

Supporting Champions (Steve Ingham) – I’m a bit biased because I’ve been a guest on Steve’s podcast but it is one I listen to regularly – especially when I feel like a bit of insight into how others might be dealing with their sporting careers. Steve has worked in high performance sport forever (sorry Steve) and it seems like he knows everyone so he has some brilliant guests. He is really focused on their stories and their journeys through their careers so brilliant advice (whether you are just starting out or been going for years) is interwoven throughout.

The Private Practice Startup Podcast (Kate & Katie) – If you are an applied sports psych then although the basis for the chat is America and focused on clinical psychology (so they are in a different ‘system’ to us) the interviewees have great insight and ideas to make private practice really professional and valuable. And the chemistry between the hosts makes you feel like you are listening in to the two of them chatting over a class of wine.

Wider psychology

How did we get here (Claudia Winkleman & Professor Tanya Byron) – Discusses emotions and every day issues using the insight of a clinical psychologist. 

Choiceology (Katy Milkman) – Covers the questions we’ve often wondered (one of my favourites was around why we love specific numbers in sport such as the 4 minute mile or the 2 hour marathon). So if you have questioned it Choiceology has probably considered it. The idea (and why it is sponsored by a finance company) is to expose psychological traps that push us into poor decision making.

General Sport

Don’t tell me the Score (Simon Mundie) – Simon has some fantastic interviewees so although he is focused on sport in general there is lots of psychology interwoven.

Clean Sport Collective – I just adore these interviews – It is American focused but lots of female athletes are profiled and you feel like you privileged to listen into a friendly chat. Full of people who deserve more profile and these guys are helping to achieve that.

Science of Sport Podcast (Ross Tucker & Mike Finch) – If a journalist wants to get a quote from a world-renowned sports scientist they go to Professor Ross Tucker. He fronts up this podcast with sports journalist Mike Finch to break down the myths, practices and controversies in sport. Their episodes on doping and ‘The Shoe that broke running’ are musts if you want to be informed of all the perspectives on these contentious issues. They also include interviews with some of the world’s leading sporting experts. For those who love sport.

Tough Girl Podcast (Sarah Williams) – Sarah has a passion to give female adventurers the exposure they deserve. She knows if you can’t see it you can’t be it so profiling female athletes and explorers is vital and she has set up a brilliant podcast to platform these women and their stories.

Endurance Sport specific podcasts

Marathon Talk (Tom Williams, Martin Yelling, Holly Rush, Tony Audenshaw) – – Love all these guys for their relentless positivity, weekly running updates and fascinating interviewees.

Mind over Muscle (Ant Middleton) –  – I am definitely biased on this one as I’m the resident Sport Psychologist on it but I genuinely think we come up with some good stuff so I’m including it! Ant Middleton (the SAS guy), Mara Yamauchi (two time Olympian and super speedy marathon runner) and I take 5 first time marathon runners towards their first London Marathon in April. Of course (Spoiler alert) we don’t get there as the marathon has been postponed till the Autumn but we have some fun and some tears on the way.

Runners World (Rick Pearson & Ben Hobson) – Has interesting runners on for short chats that are easy to listen to on a shortish run.

The Tripod (Annie Emmerson & Louise Minchin) – – This was a 7 part series last year taking three newbie athletes on their first triathlon. Annie and Louise have lots of superstar friends – they got cycling advice from Chris Hoy, Swimming advice from Rebecca Adlington and some top tips from Vicky Holland. Really relaxed and lots of fun – all while soothing the nerves of the triathletes.

Free Weekly Timed (Vassos Alexander & Helen Williams) – – For anyone with a love of parkrun (which is most people!) this is a great listen hearing from different parkruns, people from parkrun HQ and a weekly quiz.

Others that have been recommended by fellow Sport Psychologists:

Free courses in sport, exercise & psychology

Courses logos

When I was a trainee I was also a new mum. I needed to do as much of my learning and development as I could online while my daughter slept. I found some really valuable courses which were completely free. With the lockdown meaning work is quieter than normal I’ve been using the time to top up my professional development and have really enjoyed it so thought I should share some of the great courses out there for those interested in Sport and Exercise and Psychology. They all come from either Open University, Future Learn, Coursera or Class Central so each are worth checking out if you are looking to do some free learning.

Sport Psychology specific

Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Open University
Course explores the influence of coaching and psychology through the lens of sports people and teams who have been successful. Focuses on coaching practices used with young people and adults, including research and advice of leaders in their fields.

Exploring communication and working relationships in sport
Open University
Covers skills required to boost your ability to vary your communication approach according to the situation and the needs of the people involved.

Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury
Open University
This course examines the relationship between injury and psychological factors, looking at the link between injury and psychology at two distinct points – before an injury has occurred and then following an injury.

Learning from burnout and overtraining
Open University
A course looking at those sports people who have thrived and those who have experienced burnout. By exploring burnout you will gain a deeper understanding of the physical and mental aspects of sport such as athletic identity, overtraining and perfectionism.

Motivation and factors effecting motivation
Open University
This course explores the term ‘motivation’ and factors affecting motivation. This includes looking at the most influential theories of motivation that contribute to understanding the causes of motivation. The motivation of sports people and people working in sport and fitness environments are used to help understand the theories presented.

Working with client skills

Developing Clinical Empathy: Making a Difference in Patient Care 
St George’s, University of London
To learn skills to help you understand a client’s situation. Helps to develop relationship-building skills such as compassion and empathy. Covers different types of empathy, explores non-verbal cues, and understanding key opportunities for showing empathy in clinical care.


Introduction to Psychology
Provides a comprehensive overview of the scientific study of thought and behaviour by exploring topics such as perception, communication, learning, memory, decision-making, persuasion, emotions, and social behaviour.

Science of Wellbeing
Challenges designed to increase happiness and build more productive habits. Covers the misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change.

Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects
University of California, San Diego
Provides access to learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, maths, science and sports. Covers illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Wider Sport Science

Science of Endurance Training and Performance
University of Kent
Learn about the science behind endurance sports training and performance, including effective preparation and rehabilitation.
(NB: Course not running right now but you can sign up to get an email when it does).

Managing your health – the role of physical therapy and exercise
University of Toronto
Course covers the concepts and benefits of physical therapy and exercise.

The Science of Exercise
University of Colorado, Boulder
Helps you to have an improved physiological understanding of how your body responds to exercise, and will be able to identify behaviours, choices, and environments that impact your health and training.

Introductory Human Physiology
Duke University
Learn to recognize and to apply the basic concepts that govern integrated body function (as an intact organism) in the body’s nine organ systems.

Lifestyle medicine

Essentials of Lifestyle Medicine and Population Health 
Doane University
Covers the foundations of population health and lifestyle medicine and makes the argument for why healthcare delivery models based on these foundational principles are essential to addressing global healthcare crises.

Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine 
Doane University
Lifestyle Medicine is the science and application of 49 healthy lifestyles as interventions for the prevention and treatment of lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, some neurological conditions and some cancers. It is bridges the science of physical activity, nutrition, stress management and resilience; sleep hygiene and other healthy habits to individuals through clinical practice in healthcare.

Advice from Dr Tim Rogers on how athletes can cope during the Coronavirus changes

I remember interviewing Dame Sarah Storey and asking her if she’d ever used Imagery. She said she uses it all the time; but whilst on the bike, visualising the events going on around her. Never lying on a dusty floor being talked at. She couldn’t see the value in that. And she is not alone. There are lots of mental skills we teach in sport psychology which work wonderfully. But they often require athletes to sit still, or sometimes even lie down, eyes closed, to learn them. Those techniques are not popular. When we introduce them eyes will roll and stomachs will sink. They want to be outside, in the gym, on equipment – using physical energy.

So, take these athletes, who want to be outside, to be active. Cancel all their races. Wipe out their goals. And, if they are not key workers, ask them to spend three, four or five weeks at home with only a short amount of time to exercise each day. Of course, they understand why and will do what they can to help. But it doesn’t make it easy.

So I asked Tim Rogers, one of the UK’s leading sports psychiatrists for ideas to help them cope.

TIm Rogers photo

What do you see as the biggest mental health challenges for athletes who have to isolate?

Athletes don’t escape the same issues as non-athletes.  In that sense, although social distancing prevents infections, social isolation can significantly increase the risk of other health problems, both physical and mental.  Blanket corona virus coverage on social media and through 24-hour news cycles mean we miss nothing, including hearing about everyone else’s worries.  Worry and anxiety become unhealthy when “what if” thoughts multiply and fill our thinking space with scary things all day.  This is tiring and hard to sustain.

Specifically, in sport, athletes and coaches across the board are struggling with the sudden unexpected loss of their goals, their events (major and minor) and sometimes even their livelihoods.  This was unthinkable only a few months ago.

Elite sports people can find these losses harder to cope with – emotionally – for a few reasons.  Sometimes they have had to invest such a large amount of themselves in their sport: who they are; what they value about life; how they spend their time; who they connect with in their social groups; that sudden changes like this can feel catastrophic.  Sometimes, they have set themselves extremely high expectations for what they want to achieve for their season.  Although there is nothing they could have done to control the onset of a pandemic, they nevertheless find themselves feeling guilty about not training, having a negative conversation with themselves or feeling that they have in some way let themselves down.

The combination of these things can place emotional wellbeing at risk, at a time when it’s important to look after yourself in all respects (both mental and physical).

How do you advise athletes to cope with a complete change of expectations for their season?

Take a moment to pause, step back and notice how you’re feeling during such an unprecedented time.  It’s OK not to be OK, whether or not it has anything to do with corona directly.  If at all you do need support: reach out in the normal way; don’t tell yourself you need to push on through, single handed or alone.

Putting yourself out there to compete in sport has to come with an awareness that things might not go as expected.  Sometimes this is the small stuff.  Right now, it’s something unprecedented.  Striving to achieve amazing things also means being flexible to adapt your goals when you have to.  Once you’ve done the best you can, remind yourself that this is enough.  It’s ok to readjust expectations.

Self-isolation need not mean social isolation.  Being connected to others in a supportive community does more than just help us feel better, it buffers the biological effects of stress hormones/pressure. It’s so easy to forget to reach out and connect but it’s still possible to experience the same sense of community and the same mental health benefit digitally.  One of the benefits of our era of tech is how readily we can now do this from our phones, tablets and computers.  A great example is the digital community in which I work: Big White Wall

Don’t just reach out to those closest to you, reach out to your wider group and be together with them online.  Giving support can be just as beneficial as receiving it.  When you do that, take a moment to notice how many non-sports areas of life you actually value really highly: family; relationships; friends; community; hobbies; spirituality; leisure; physical health; politics; caring for the environment; something else altogether.  Falling back onto the things that are important for each of us helps us through difficult moments and helps us manage unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

How do you advise athletes to cope with the increased levels of frustration and boredom?

A little worry or frustration can be useful if it nudges us to plan our way through difficult moments. Don’t revert to reading the news too much or ‘lurking’ on social media.  Set aside 10 minutes each day to get up to date with the latest developments, then that is enough until tomorrow.  If you are online for other reasons, think about what you post.  Share stories of coping, share care and support and share the things that have helped you.

Give yourself permission to focus on something else: a to-do list for today.  Any more worry about what might or might not happen in the future (or what cannot now be achieved) is not helpful for you or for others.

Routines are helpful.  I read a great thread about life on a submarine recently.  Submariners cope by routine: from making sure they rise early, wash and dress; all the way through the other aspects of the day.

There are lots of ways to help you get back into the moment right now, whether free mindfulness resources online, or anything else that pulls your focus into the present.  This enables us to cope and to problem solve.  Is there something you can take the opportunity to get done?

Your full training plan might not be possible for now but movement is still medicine.  Set yourself a goal to find the best ways of staying active and fit for your own situation.  For most people (except in situations of exercise dependence or disordered eating) any activity – however little – helps your mental health. Try to find some physical activity that is fun and enjoyable for each day.

Tim’s biography:

Tim is a medical doctor and consultant sports psychiatrist.  For many years, Tim has worked across the spectrum of wellbeing and performance with both individuals and teams in elite football, in the Olympic and Paralympic Systems, elite rugby, cricket, tennis, horse racing and many other areas.  He is one of a very small number of experts to have undertaken dual postgraduate training in applied sport and exercise psychology.  He understands the culture of professional sport and the unique pressures that come with this. Tim is also clinical director at the Big White Wall, an anonymous online mental health service with projects across sport, both in the UK and internationally.

Managing emotion through tough times

Emotion wheelJust a short post as I am trying to fit as much writing in before the schools and nurseries close and I have to work whilst entertaining an energetic and adventurous 3 year old. If any magazine articles get published in the next few months with random Peppa Pig phrases in them you’ll know why!

But as everything is up in the air I have really been thinking about how athletes cope. They are often used to uncertainty and ‘controlling the controllables’ but in this COVID-19 situation what is controllable? If you are someone who likes certainty, and things to grab hold of and dates to work towards and plans and goals then the next few months might be really tough.

Discipline is needed in sport but, when you get really used to following a disciplined approach, sharing your emotions can be hard. We may believe that to be taken seriously we just need to ‘suck it up’. but we can only do that for so long before it harms our wellbeing and then it can then be very difficult to tell people how we feel, what worries us, when we are scared or when we are angry.

Something I have recently started using with the younger athletes I work with is an emotion wheel and I think it could benefit all of us, whatever our age. There are thousands of emotions but I would guess that from the top of our head most of us could only name 10-20. An emotion wheel names 130 of them. If we are soon to be confined to our flats and houses for weeks on end then having good quality, open communication will become vital. Without a way to escape and get some space we may get resentful or hostile. Being able to chat up front about this, looking through the wheel each day and having a chat about which is the word you are currently feeling can help deal with some of those issues and open the door to better communication. Better communication and seeing things from each others’ perspectives will make a much less stressful living environment.

The emotion wheel I usually direct people towards has been created by Geoffrey Roberts and is downloadable here:

Would love to hear if anyone tries it and how you get on.