7 weeks to go…stars in the dark

A good week for training. Started badly though. Went for a run and after 25 minutes felt dizzy and blugh. Did another 5 minutes but no better so turned round and headed back. Next day’s intervals not much better. But a swim on the Thursday was pretty magic. My coach has this theory that swimming during marathon training makes you a better runner. I dislike swimming so I wish she was wrong but unfortunately she really does know what she is talking about and legs and head felt great afterwards. I also had a sports massage from Joseph on Friday who is fab (apart from the regular reminders to stretch!) so went into my long run on Saturday feeling good. Which was handy cause running in a storm is hard work. Managed 16 miles ambling round Richmond Park. Sunday was just 10k home from meeting friends for coffee in Richmond. My friends looked at me like crazy setting off in the rain to run but I promised I was ok because I love running in the rain. Something so liberating about it. It is a pretty good strength to have too seeing as it can rain quite a lot on London.

It was a good run to use to reflect on my strengths. Because although in training (and many sports psych sessions) we tend to focus on our weaknesses, on competition or race day we really need to know our strengths, so we can use them to our advantage.

It is one of my favourite sessions to do with athletes. Most are so humble that they look at me in horror when I initially ask about their strengths but once we get into it and break them down into areas they find they have loads, and start to feel much prouder about how good they have become.

We start by doing a strengths audit. This is a list of all those elements which make us feel confident we can achieve our goals. Proactively identifying strengths is helpful as we are prone to a number of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias where we are more likely to notice things which support what we already believe or negativity bias where we focus more on negative information than positive. Countering these by promoting positive elements, reminders and memories can help us overcome these biases to stop downplaying everything good and seeing it through this negative lens. The strengths audit is also great for a confidence boost. Even if we don’t believe we have a natural talent for our sport, we can still see the elements which help us perform well in it. And it helps us focus on our own skills and mastery, not on those of our competitors.

This one is easy to do as a list but to make it resonate a bit more I raided our Sporting Brain Box to do my strengths audit as ‘Stars in the Dark’. This gives you what you need to put your strengths up somewhere you can’t miss them. I’ve just stuck mine up right above my desk.

Stars in the Dark

Stars in the Dark gives you 10 silver stars. We are looking for at least one strength from each element:

  • Fitness
  • Strategy
  • Skills
  • Tactics
  • Mindset
  • Support

If you struggle then you can get out your training diary to see which sessions you always nail, or look through your phone to see who gives you the best support with your sport. If you really struggle then think about other areas of your life which may highlight transferable strengths. And if you still struggle (and many athletes, especially if they are in a bad period within their training will find this hard) then talk to other people about where they see your strengths coming from. It could be a coach, partner, parents, friends or club mates. The benefit of this is knowing your strengths are strong enough to be recognised by others should mean they can be pretty confidence boosting for you to remember in the build up to and during competition.

So with my Stars in the Dark staring down at me I’m off into Brighton Half Marathon this weekend.

8 weeks to race day…Weaknesses

Tramill screenLast week’s training went ok – I’m not great on sticking to paces outside so when one of my sessions called for different paces throughout I thought I should do it on the treadmill. We have a treadmill in the garage so at least I didn’t need to fight to be allowed to hog one in the gym for ages but even still 100 minutes on a treadmill is the longest I’ve ever done and was mentally really tough. And really annoyingly I was using imagery to get through the session visualising the screen showing 100 minutes when I’d finished it and didn’t realise the number of digits was limited so as I finished it clicked over from 99:59 to 00:01. Cue big sulky bottom lip! But the session was definitely one to consider a ‘gold medal session’ to give me some confidence when it comes to Paris race day.

The storm squashed my weekend racing plans as the Winter 10k round central London was called off. I was recording a podcast the day before though which, as it is a running podcast, actually meant I had to run 10k with the athletes on the show so added a 12k run home from that and I felt like I’d got a decent session in to replace the race.

When I got home from the run I found out my shy 3 year old had managed her first swimming class – for weeks she has refused to get in the pool – so this was a really big deal. We went straight out for celebratory dinner – I want her to learn that we celebrate success – especially when we have had to be really brave and leave our comfort zone.

And leaving that comfort zone to confront our weakness is the point of this week’s reflection. A key session I will do with athletes as their sports psych is to consider their strengths (we will look at this next week)  but I never need to ask their weaknesses – so many athletes are perfectionists that they are highly attuned to their weaknesses and consider them over and over again.  They can reel off a long list.

But being aware of them is different to actually facing them and working on them. And that is vital to perform at a high level. We want to focus on our weaknesses in training so we can benefit from our strengths in racing.

I know my biggest weakness is my ability to make excuses. I am really good at justifying what I have done to block out what I was supposed to do. So if I have a 1 hour run at 7.5mph I might do the run, but only at 6.5mph. I’ll argue to myself it is good enough I did the run. And it is – but not if I want to get faster and stronger. I will offer myself the excuse the day got too busy and no-one can run a business, look after their family and train effectively. But you can if you put away your phone and get off social media thus freeing up lots of additional time.

As Project Paris is all about trying to do everything properly I’m trying to address these weaknesses so my mindset must switch from finding excuses as to why turning up is good enough to finding excuses for why I must turn up and train properly.

Much of dealing with our weaknesses can come down to why we are racing in the first place and the values (see last week’s post) we have behind our racing. We can use our purpose and our values to address each weakness. My values are family, achievement and courage.

If working with an athlete who makes excuses we would list each excuse that they have used over a couple of weeks in their training. And then we proactively address them with our counter excuses. For example mine would look like…

Excuse… Countered with..
I’m so tired, I won’t be able to do the session properly I’ll need to be brave during the marathon when I get tired – this session will be good practice for that moment.
It is good enough to do a bit of it – it doesn’t need to be perfect I need to follow my coach’s sessions if I am to achieve my goal
I’ve got a deadline that matters more I knew I would have a book deadline when I entered this race. I can do both and I’ll feel more invigorated to write once I’ve run.

Practising these over and over – not just in the moment – will help to embed them as thoughts which automatically start to counter my excuses.

9 weeks to race day…Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10 weeks to race day…Goal setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marathon goals

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

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

11 weeks to race day…Performance Profiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance profile photo

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

 

 

 

 

13 weeks till race day… motivational philosophy

Richmond 10k medal

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

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

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

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

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

Green training peaks

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

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

Project Paris…

Paris Logo

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

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

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

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

11 weeks to go: Creating my performance profile

10 weeks to go: Developing my goal setting

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

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

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

6 weeks to go: Using a training diary properly

5 weeks to go: Developing a magic mantra

4 weeks to go: Working on my what if plan

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

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

1 week to go: Creating my confidence booster

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

 

Mental Health and Mental Performance – Seminar

AASP picThis week I am at AASP Conference. AASP is the Association of Applied Sport Psychologists. There are about 2500 members in 55 countries and about 50% of those members have turned up at conference. That is how good it usually is.

One of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending was on how practitioners support good mental health when they are trying to promote high levels of mental performance. The panellists had experience from youth elites (Valerie Valle at IMG Academy), Olympians (Sean McCann, US Olympic Committee), NCAA students (Vanessa Shannon, Uni of Louisville) and Pro Baseball (Angus Mugford, Toronto Blue Jays). It was pulled together and hosted by Duncan Simpson who is also at IMG Academy and is one of my ‘go to’ guys when I write features as he explains complex research findings in a way that is instantly usable by athletes.

The elements I thought would be helpful for me if I work in a team environment in future and maybe helpful for other Sports Psychs to reflect on:

How the panel deal with tricky or clinical issues when athletes are off at competitions or camps:

  • Realise there is an urgency
  • Have your phones switched on all the time when working with a team
  • Train the sports medicine staff in Mental Health First Aid so they can triage the situation if you are not there
  • Expect tricky things to happen but remember every situation is different so slow down to make decisions
  • Have communication processes in place
  • Be proactive in relationship building with other staff so support can be collaborative.

Stressors and risk factors for poor mental health in athlete populations:

  • Age – around 14 is the time when many mental health issues start to appear – especially if young people are away from home so have more freedom but also more pressure – so we really need to understand what happens to the brain during adolescence.
  • Time travelling – thinking ahead about what might happen if… In competition athletes should be in the moment.
  • The biggest occasions – i.e. Olympics can become a magnifying glass of emotion as it is often a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • After big events – athletes may struggle even if they did well and if they are not prepared can suffer with depression or substance abuse.

Working in Multi-Disciplinary teams

  • It can be really hard to collaborate across a large number of teams so you will need to identify communication systems which keep you all updated but don’t risk the athletes privacy.
  • Can split mental health and mental performance so there are fewer issues for athletes on what is shared.
  • Collaboration is rarely efficient but it can be very effective.
  • Think about informal connections and discussions which can be had
  • Develop an athlete management system so each athlete feels like they have 1 unified programme.
  • On a team know who your ‘high awareness’ players are who will need more support and attention.

Transition of athletes into a programme

  • Provide coach education so they know and understand what athletes are going through
  • Provide lots of support in an athlete’s first few weeks on a programme
  • Get seen a lot so it is easy for anyone struggling to come and see you.
  • Run an induction session with new athletes – and maybe with their parents too.
  • Do some screening to see who is likely to need support; Anxiety, Patient Health Questionnaire and Eating Disorders.

Transition of athletes out of a programme

  • Be clear everything is on the table for discussion.
  • Most athletes (and often their coaches) will not want to consider what comes next but those who do enjoy performance benefits and an easier time after retirement.
  • We need to prepare them for the ‘after’.

Stigma for athletes of seeing a Psych

  • Coaches and other athletes who have had support can be the best people to spread the word the sports psych can be trusted
  • There will always be discomfort when we don’t have experience of something but most athletes will not have learnt mental skills before so will not know their value- you may need to sell them what you can offer – sell this as ways to maximise potential.

Ways for Sport Psychologists’ to maintain mental health

  • Share our vulnerability
  • Admit we are not perfect but that we are trying
  • Get good colleagues we can consult with
  • Practice what you preach when it comes to self-care: Lots of sleep, good nutrition, other self-identities, lots of support
  • Have boundaries
  • Accept you probably won’t get balance if you are embedded in a travelling team but find your blend and know your non-negotiables and set up routines.
  • Find autonomy and meaning and value and create proactive systems.

Lessons to remember

  • We need to manage our own expectations of what we can achieve (be realistic!)
  • Remember that we are performers too
  • Keep focused on it not being the outcome which matters. Think about what being a good sports psych looks like – it is usually about the process and never about the outcome.
  • Value ourselves – but don’t over value ourselves!

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: Denise Mueller-Korenek

Denise KDenise Mueller-Korenek is a 45 year old American cyclist who in 2018 set the world record for paced bicycle land speed going 183.9 miles per hour. 16 miles per hour faster than any male or female has ever gone before. She also exudes enthusiasm and ‘an do’ attitude and after only a 30 minute chat I was off scribbling a new bucket list a page long! I asked her about her six year journey from getting inspired through to hitting that 183.9 mph record.

I am keen to learn from amazing female cyclists, highlighting the lessons they have learnt and showing how the rest of us can learn from them.

I love the view of the equalisation. In so many ways. It has come up a few times. People have asked me if I really think there should be a men’s and women’s type of record. What is funny is I was on the other side of this a few years ago when we petitioned to be the first female and we petitioned them to create a women’s category and interestingly enough I now regret that! Just because it really isn’t a men’s and women’s.

My coach jokes… because I broke a long standing male record that had been held for 23 years and this other female athlete that he is coaching got second place overall at the Silverstate 508 – an ultra endurance cycling event so the tagline he is joking about having is: I teach women how to break men’s records.! She got the course record and was only one off overall and it was just really interesting to see. I do think as women age, especially in the endurance side, I’ve seen that in marathon, as women age they endure a lot more whereas men’s bodies tend to break down a little bit more. Women have the ability to endure a little bit more in endurance events as women’s age.

I did a radio interview yesterday for Dubai and they asked me about men’s verses women’s and I said it is interesting I fought on one side of it to get it separated and I should have never ever done that because in true reality this isn’t a men’s and women’s record it is a singular overall record and obviously I have now proven that. There is no way to unmerge the record unfortunately.

Going through the process of setting the record is there one lesson you learnt along the way?

I think my biggest reflection is about inspiration. What I plan to do after to inspire people. Because I did this – I got inspired by three ladies from the gym who decided to run a marathon. And literally I can connect the dots to this and I look and see that is the biggest takeaway I have. To let yourself be inspired by somebody and just follow the path that leads to. It leads you to who knows what and it could lead you to something great. And I think that is my biggest lesson, from my 30,000 foot viewpoint. I got inspired by going to the gym every day and doing my little workout and got back into the game of life.

 

What specifically inspired you about these women inspired you?

For me I got to watch them decide on the goal. I got to watch their struggles and their training even some of their running on the treadmill and I remember a group of four other guys in the gym and we said let’s go down and cheer them on. I said that would be so cool as we’d watched all their training and rather than waiting for them to come back to the gym the next week saying ‘we did it’ we went down there and watching them do the goal we’d watched them struggle and work for was so exciting and all these people were there. I’m a people person and I’m inspired by all these people, I love those type of events and I like individual events where you are racing against yourself. I’ve not done a whole lot of soccer and teams in sport but just my experience and I’m sitting there watching and that is when I went ‘I’m going to do this next year.’ So that is how that came about. Everybody is going to be a little different on what inspired them but for me that excitement of watching a goal come to fruition, I mean we were there for those three ladies but when you watch the rest of the crowd, every single person there had a story. Some were running for charity but everybody had a story and you become part of everybody’s journey in a way. And that is what is so cool.

www.mattbenstone.com

How did Land speed record come about?

Like I said it was a connection of the dots so I decided to do that marathon the next year. At the same time my middle son was just entering high school and he was having issues. He wasn’t fitting in very well and he was having issues so I said ‘I just created a bucket list item so lets come up with something for you. Something where we are spending time together’ because I had something with my youngest and my oldest but I didn’t have something to connect with my middle son so I said ‘for example I’m doing the marathon’ and he said ‘ok I’ll do that’. I said ‘you can’t just shut me up by saying I’ll do that’ but he said ‘no I’ll do it’. So he ended up doing that first marathon almost a year later with me. We did all the training together and got that connection I was looking for. It took a while to get the approval to do it as he was too young. The day before, when we went in to get our packets; when you train for a marathon, a half marathon feels like nothing as it is half of the distance; and he had done my bucket list item with me so the day before the marathon he said I want to do all the half marathons they have next year. At the time there were only 14 but still, 14 in 12 months is a lot, and I looked at his dad and said well these are in Virginia Beach, they are all over the United States, for this particular series, but I said how cool is this you are going to keep running and on top of that he jumped from my goal to one of his own. He ended up doing 19 half marathons in one year at the age of 16. We are over-achievers in our family right!

And with that I had trained my son for doing one marathon right from a programme off the internet and I was feeling the pressure of being a parent that other people would be saying  was training her son to do all these half-marathons, even though he wasn’t competing in them he was completing them, and so I said I’m going to reach out to my coach, John Howard that I had when I was a junior. Granted I had been off the bike and doing the mom and career thing for 20 years, over 20 years, so I reached out to John Howard who lives only half a mile from my office and I said ‘John how cool would it be for you to coach my son at 16 when you were one of my coaches when I was 16’ and he said sure, and started creating a programme. And because we are communicating such a lot my coach said ‘hey do you still ride your bike’ and I said ‘no – it is hung up in the garage for forever’ and so here is the next dot in the connection he said why don’t you get it down then as there is a great charity ride coming up why don’t you get it down and do that with us. So, he got me back on the bicycle.

That charity ride got my coach seeing something in me that I could not even see. And this is the power of having a coach – an outside view of where you are at. Someone who believes in you. He said I know you are an adrenaline junkie. At this point I had been racing cars and been jumping out of planes and he was sparking in interest in what was already there. So he was leading me with all this talk of cars and speed and I was like ‘where are you going with this?’ He said ‘you realise no woman has ever done the land-speed record or even attempted to do it’. And I thought oh my gosh – I mean how many records are out there where no woman has even attempted it? The men had attempted in in 1989. So I was instantly ’you got it’ and the dots started connecting; so I did a marathon, my son started to do a bunch of half marathons, I reconnected with my coach, he got me back on my bike and he introduced the land-speed record so that is the short connection of this.

We went out there in 2016 and we actually did this record. There is a lot in between here and there but these are the main dots. In 2016 we went out there and I wanted to go 125-140. That was my goal and we ended up doing 147. And the way in which the team came together was amazing but we also had to figure out a dynamic which was between the car driver and myself. The car driver was Shea Holbrook. It was the last day of a four day event and we knew we had a lot more miles within us to get a higher record and it rained – it was so frustrating so we said we are coming back next year and we are going to take the overall record, without thinking. We put that goal out there and then we had to step back and go what did we just do? So, we didn’t come back in 2017 cause the salt conditions were horrible that year and it would have been very dangerous if we went. And we didn’t have a car. We were finding it very difficult as we didn’t have a car. We had previously had a sponsor give us a car to use which was a Range Rover in 2016 and they weren’t willing to give that to us again two years later. So we petitioned Fred Rompelberg who is the 1995 record holder at 166.9 cause he’d been keeping the car he used in storage in Utah so we said ‘can we use your car and yes we are going after your record’. We were very clear we were going after the overall record. And so we got the use of his car, came back this year, got beautiful salt conditions and completely nailed it.

DCIM100GOPROG0051706.JPG

Do you think it helped having the same team?

Absolutely I think, especially for the driver. The driver, Shea Holbrook and myself got what she is doing in the cockpit of that car. It directly influences what I need to be doing in the back – if she doesn’t push herself I’ll never be able to do it. And we had a bunch of issues with the car preparing it – so I never got a test run. Back in 2016, granted I’d never done it before, I got 10 test runs and in the event we had seven runs. So we have 17 experiences behind us coming into 2018. If I had a new pace car driver we would have to start over. I only did three runs and that third run was the record so if we hadn’t had that experience together I do not believe we would have done the record as quickly or as easily as we got that record because we wouldn’t have had that experience.

When was the marathon that inspired you?

The original marathon was the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in 2009. My son and I did in 2010.

It was a long journey then…

Oh yes. In fact when John Howard bought up the land-speed record it was 2012 and we were supposed to do it in 2015 but we didn’t have everything together, again we didn’t have a car sponsor then. That was a huge part of it but we got pushed from 2015, but that was lucky as in 2015, cause we do this in conjunction with another event which is going on so we don’t have to pay all the event fees, it got rained out so it became a four year journey. And by opening our mouths what started as a three year journey became a six year journey. It was never meant to be a six year goal. It was meant to be a three year, ‘one and we are done’ goal. But it ended up being six.

How did you celebrate?

Well, we were in the middle of nowhere in Utah so not a lot of places to celebrate but we did take the team out to a local casino and had a couple of margaritas. That was how we celebrated. Literally the next day everyone dispersed off in their own directions. We had Matt Stone who came all the way over from the UK to be our photographer. He  found me on Linkedin. He said I love cars, I love cycling, I would love to be involved. We have a tonne of photographers out here, much closer but we talked to him via Skype and he had such a passion for this we said ok. Shey Holbrook our driver came from Florida, we had people from Washington, the mechanics, we had people coming from all over to be part of this team. We accomplished it on the Sunday. The event actually went one more day but everyone dispersed on Monday and so we had celebrations on the Sunday night and by the Monday night me and my husband and the dragster were in Reno, Nevada which was 400 miles away for a bicycle show and it was a once a year show. We had two solid days at the show and then I just wanted to be home.

What bike?

Our sponsors sent always been KHS and they sponsored the build of the bicycle in 2016. It was the same bicycle I used in 2018. I did not change the bicycle. It is a custom, one off. The fabricator is a custom carbon fibre builder that we know in San Diego locally and he built the frame and it is elongated which allows more stability, sort of like a track verses a little sprint car. There is a lot more stability for the longer wheel base and then the wheels are 17 inches verses the 27 inch wheel that you would find on a regular bicycle and with that it provides for a lower centre of gravity which again creates stability. Then there is a double reduction chain ring. The guy that did our double reduction gearing said if we were not using two chain rings and two different cogs in unison with each other, then it would be like how pulleys would work, if you had a huge bucket of concrete if you put enough pulleys together you could lift that. That is why you need to have a double reduction to get the size of gear necessary. I have a release mechanism that is executed by the left break lever – it is not for brakes. It is what executes the release and if you watch the YouTube video carefully you can watch my left hand you will see when I do the release and my cable pulls back.

Have you heard from anyone else who has been inspired by what you have done?

I have had people say that they have been inspired and people who have done some events and set some goals over the course of time. This has always been my passion because even before we did 2016 I always knew I wanted to do sport because it is one thing to sit there and go ‘look what I did’ ‘look what I did’ but that is my own personal journey and that is my own personal accomplishment and I don’t need to be sitting out there saying to everybody ‘hey look at me’ that is just not my style it never has been. I knew from the very beginning, when we set out to do this for 2016, that my thoughts would be how can I use this to help inspire other people to the level I was inspired. So, with that I’ve done some speeches and things of that nature since 2016. The point of what I am doing is to inspire people and I can’t tell you how awesome it is when someone comes up and goes that is so cool and I did this and they have now started their journey and that is exactly what the intention is here as one person at a time is going out there and making their life a bit better.