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.