Marathon done – Banish any post race blues

medal-displaysIn the build up to the London Marathon I blogged some ideas that you could use to stay on track and ensure your mind was as prepared for the marathon as your body was. Now the marathon is over there is one final thing to keep in mind; how to savour your success and stay happy with what you have achieved.

Not everyone needs this. You may well be rocking the comedy walk this morning and have trouble removing the incredibly well deserved grin off your face. That grin may even be pasted on for the next few weeks – and that is fantastic. But for some people, when they have lived for a specific date, focused so hard on their training and achieved something amazing, they can actually feel quite deflated once it is all over. So, over the next few days if you start to feel a little down, don’t worry – this is not unusual. Post-race blues have been experienced by many athletes.

If you do find yourself in this position here are four things to try:

  • Create a momento of the marathon; something which collates your medal, race number, photos and any mantra’s you used that you can put up in your home and remind yourself of what you achieved.
  • Plan something exciting you can look forward to in the week or so as your post marathon treat.
  • Consider which goal you want to go for next. Is it to go longer, or faster, or to try a variation of road running like a triathlon, cross country or some track events? Set that goal and enter the race.
  • Find a way to payback all the social support you got during your marathon training from your family and friends. Social support of your training and racing can make a big difference to how successful you are able to be so now you have some time off after the marathon use that time to thank them and to support them in their sport or hobby. It will make them feel special, and earn you some brownie points for when you enter your next race!

5 weeks to Marathon – Pre-race routine

Composite of Clock and Calendar

Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for your run as your body is. This post, with five weeks to go, suggests you prepare yourself a pre-race routine.

 

Some people have superstitions they follow. A lucky charm, the same safety pins they use for every race number, always having a t-shirt under their running vest. There is a great list of superstitions followed by famous athletes here. While these superstitions can give you a feeling of security and comfort if you can’t find your charm, or your t-shirt is in the wash you’ll feel very out of sorts. Better is to have a routine you follow before every race that you feel completely in control of.

Your pre-race routine should be personal to you, fitting your own personality and preferences and full of the things you have discovered help you run well. Putting them all together into a pre-race routine helps you focus your attention, reduce your anxiety, improve your confidence and block out distractions before your marathon. It can cover just the hour before you race or it can go back up to 24 hours to put in place everything that you know helps you perform at you best. This can include warm up routines, how you like to engage with others beforehand, preparing your kit, what you eat and drink or how you travel to the venue. Your routine will help you transfer your attention from the nerves and anxieties to things which will help you focus on doing well and make your marathon successful. And it should become something you do before every race or competition so it becomes automatic.

There are lots of questions to ask yourself when you write your routine:

  • Training: Do I want to train the day before the race, if so what session? What time do I like to train?
  • Mental skills: What mental skills will I use: visualisation, self talk? Will I prepare a ‘what if’ plan?
  • Kit: When will I pack my kit bag? Have I a list of everything I need? Have I recently used my kit to know it is not damaged or likely to chafe? Will I be able to store it somewhere?
  • Travel: How will I get to my race? Have I checked the routes? Am I sure I know where the venue is? Are there road / train works? Is there parking? What will I need to pay for?
  • Food: What do I like to eat the night before a race? What do I like for breakfast? Will I be able to get hold of it if staying away? What time should I eat breakfast?
  • Warm up: Does my body like a warm up? Will I avoid people or chat to others? Will I listen to music? Will I take any nutrition before we start? Will I practice any mental skills before the race?

When you’ve answered all of these questions you can timetable in all these activities so you know you won’t have forgotten anything important and can feel confident you are fully ready to race. If you would like a timetable to follow you can download a worksheet here.

The ten social media mistakes athletes make most often

farah-2

Social media can have many great uses for athletes. You can keep up with latest advice and research on your sport or training, you can catch up with friends and their news even when you are training and working too many hours to see them in person and it can keep you entertained in your downtime when your body needs to rest and recover.

But, social media can also be a minefield if you find yourself comparing your training to others, you see trolling direct messages which distract you from your performance, or in the heat of a moment you don’t think through what you are tweeting and say something crass, rude or disrespectful. From researching some of the biggest social media screw ups by athletes we have found the top 10 reasons why athletes get in trouble over social media. 

  1. Forgetting anyone can see what you are writing

Not an athlete but a really good reminder from a girl who had just been offered a new job and tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Not surprisingly the IT company were hot on checking their mentions on twitter and the job offer was retracted.

  1. Ignoring your privilege

Ian Poulter, the golfer, complained on twitter about his wife having to look after their four children on a flight in business class without the help of their nanny whose seat had been downgraded. He was accused of being out of touch with people highlighting that his Twitter profile picture was of six sports cars parked outside his multi-million pound Florida home. The digs he got back were substantial including one from Joseph Fink who summed up how many felt with : “Our thoughts are with @IanJamesPoulter in these dark times.”

  1. Showing disrespect for your sport

Ian Poulter (who clearly needs a lesson in social media reputation protection) posted videos online of himself and his children eating cereal out of the Ryder Cup. Ouch.

  1. Showing disrespect for others

During the 2012 Olympics Michel Morganella, a Swiss soccer player, sent a racist tweet about the Korean soccer team. He was expelled from the team and forced to miss the remainder of the Olympics. Greek Triple jumper Voula Papachristou also got kicked off the Greek 2012 Olympic team for twitter posts mocking African immigrants and Retweeting a politician from a far-right party.

Only this week Burney striker Andre Grey was banned for four matches and fined £25k for homophobic tweets he sent. The tweets were actually sent four years ago when he played for a non-league club. Which highlights that your online footprint is never washed away.

  1. Having your partners weighing in on an argument

Cycling partners are clearly a very defensive bunch. When Lizzie Armistead was dealing with criticisms around missing three doping tests just before the Rio Olympics one of her main rivals, the French cyclist Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, tweeted that the decision to let her ride was shameful and that the rules should be the same for everyone. Armitstead’s fiancé (now husband) Philip Deignan replied by accusing the Frenchwoman of having an affair with a married man with children.

The other-halves of Cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins also got into a twitter spat in the 2012 Tour de France. When Froome was ordered to slow down to allow Wiggins to catch up and retain the overall lead, Froome’s girlfriend, Michelle Cound tweeted: ‘Teamwork is also about giving the people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right.’ Mrs Wiggins shot back a response which praised other members of the Sky Team for ‘genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism’ –  but omitted Froome. Then Peta Todd, Mark Cavendish’s wife weighed in tweeting about Froome: ‘You are a little bit special. Legend.’ No mention was made of Wiggins.

  1. Public spats with team mates

In 2015 when Mo Farah fell out with fellow runner Andy Vernon for implying he was ‘a Plastic Brit’ the gloves were off. Farah was about to race at the Sainsbury’s Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham and Vernon tweeted: “Another stellar field against Mo Farah on home turf this weekend at Birmingham. #joke”. Farah responded: “Shame you didn’t make the line up….again #ComeBackWhenYouWinSomethingDecent”. Vernon replied: “Lol Mo Farah I think even you can work out that I can make the cut to the Indoor Grand Prix. Lets hope no one loses their shoe…” Farah’s response: “I wish you did make the cut mate so I can leave you in my dust like ALWAYS!! hahahaha #hatersgonnahate”. Refering to Farah’s ‘hatersgonnahate’ hashtag, Vernon wrote: “1) stop quoting Taylor Swift. 2) I don’t hate you Mo. I would just rather watch a race than the the Mo Show. #playersgonnaplay.” Farah then posted: “that’s why they didn’t put you in the race mate.. Cos you’re an embarrassment!! Taylor swift can probably run faster than you!” Great fun for fans to follow on twitter but didn’t do either athlete any favours and caused them both unnecessary stress.

farah-1

  1. Tweeting when angry over selection

Long jumpers Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson had a twitter fight after only one could be chosen for an international competition. Greg Rutherford got the spot and didn’t even make the final. Tomlinson tweeted: “Words can’t describe my anger. Season ruined on media profile & not current athletic form. Thanks for the support from the athletics community.” After apologising to fans for not making the final Rutherford added his own dig at Tomlinson: “Oh and to the trolls… Imagine a picture of my bum hole. I’m waving it at you.” Nice.

  1. Making inappropriate jokes

If commenting on news stories athletes really need to know they have the final facts. Breaking story comments can be risky for anyone, as can making jokes. Kevin Pietersen the cricketer really fell short here. He sent a tweet commenting on an article about two South African stowaways who had come on a plane from South Africa saying “Captain and Opening Bowler in England’s WC cricket team in 2019.” He then read the actual article to see one of the stowaways had died as he fell on a roof of a building from the plane and the other was fighting for his life.

  1. Responding to criticisms

When day in, day out, you get fans, critics, journalists and former players on social media goading you it can be incredibly hard for athletes not to bite back. But this very rarely goes well and often it is the athlete who comes off worst. In Kevin Pietersen’s case (yup – again) he was fined for criticising Sky commentator Nick Knight on Twitter. He’d tweeted: Can somebody please tell me how Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for Tests? Ridiculous.” It was agreed his remarks were prejudicial to ECB interests and a breach of England conditions of employment.”

haskell-twets

During the 2015 World Cup James Haskell got into a row with Neil Back who tweeted before a world cup match: “Don’t take your selfie stick out onto the pitch before the game like you did against @fijirugby on 18th Sept. Across a number of tweets Haskell replied: “I wasn’t even playing” You’re so old and out of touch your eyes don’t work. I hope ur book sales go better than your coaching. Explain how me recording a once in a lifetime event detrimental. You were one of my childhood heroes, yet your general negativity towards myself & the team is appalling.” “You talk about my self promotion yet u have released a sensationalist book just to make cash. That’s all I have to say on this. Rule No1 never meet your heroes.”

  1. Forgetting you are an ambassador for your sponsors

Finally, as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Ryan Lochte have all found to their cost, poor behaviour will quickly lose you sponsors. Poor behaviour on social media amplifies the athlete’s issues as their own words spread so quickly and no amount of crisis PR can fix things for them. Steph Rice, the Australian swimmer, tweeted a homophobic statement after watching a match. She lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Jaguar.

 

 

 

Latest research: Recovery strategies

running-ice-bath

A confession. I love triathlon. For 12 years I’ve been racing in them. I’ve raced every distance from super sprint to Ironman. It’s taken me to amazing places round the world, introduced me to my husband, given me fantastic friends, helped me develop a wonderful support network of likeminded people who I love learning from and even made me change career. So I will always defend triathletes.

However….

We can be a fickle bunch when it comes to new gear, gadgets and gimmicks. Some have been known to spend hundreds on equipment or toys which can save a few watts off their bike, or grams from their trainers. And one area which is always moving is around recovery. Which magic vegetable should we be drinking before bed? Are we supposed to be sitting in hot baths or freezing baths this month? And just how many items of fluorescent compression gear are actually necessary, if any?

So when I attended Elevate conference and found there was a session on ‘Athletic Recovery’ to highlight what the current research is telling us about which strategies actually work I was there! The session was hosted by Dr Ken van Someren, Head of R&D at GSK with talks from Dr Jessica Hill (Senior Lecturer at St Mary’s Uni), Prof Glyn Howatson, Reader Northumbria Uni) and Nick Littlehales (Sleep Coach). We learnt…

Recovery is really important

  • It gives you faster and better adaptation from training which gives you better winning margins.
  • But we need to be clear each time what type of exercise we are trying to recover from and adapt for that.

The focus with nutrition should be on quality and in real food

  • We need to focus on quality and those products which have been through informed sport programme (i.e. tested to not contain any WADA banned products) or, even easier, are real foods so no processing required and no contamination possible.
  • Functional foods have added value beyond basic nutrition and can potentially improve your health through reducing inflammation, exercise induced pain, blood pressure and by improving your cognition, vascular function and sleep quality. Important to have the right food at the right time of the right quality and over the right duration.

Always bear in mind the placebo impact

  • While researchers will do all they can to remove the placebo effect some recovery interventions are very difficult to randomise or blind. There is just no way to disguise the fact someone is standing in a vat of icy water!
  • There can also be a belief effect – with athletes who already believe an intervention is effective reporting more effective outcomes.

Different recovery interventions may work differently on different groups

  • Highly trained athletes may respond differently than untrained members of the public.
  • Strategies may work differently with people of different ages. For example anti-inflammatories can supress adaptation in the young yet in older athletes paracetamol and ibuprofen were found to help with adaptation.

How an intervention is carried out can make a massive difference to how it works

  • The duration that an intervention is run for, temperatures used, quality or purity of product, used just once or multiple times or the type, length and intensity of exercise completed before the intervention can all impact on the efficacy of an intervention.

 

Research on specific interventions

Cryotherapy (ice baths) – the therapeutic application of cold has a number of benefits: Reduced blood flow, constriction of blood vessels, reduced tissue temperature, compression of water. What they can see so far is that you need to spend 5-10 minutes in water that is between 5-10 degrees to be effective.

Compression garments – the theory is that the muscle fibre reacts when damaged meaning there is less space for any swelling to occur. It is thought to improve blood flow, reduce DOMS and decrease muscle oscillation. The research to date finds that wearing compression does not help race performance at all. But that they do have a role in recovery when the compression garment actually fits properly.  Their advice is to wear them straight after a race and sleep in them overnight.

Tart cherries – when they gave 10 athletes tart cherries and 10 athletes a placebo over a 7 day period (5 before competition and 2 afterwards) they found the athletes who had the cherry juice had reduced inflammation both immediately and over time.  They suggest taking them before competition increases your anti-oxidant capacity. They also ran a cycling test, mirroring a three day stage race (in the lab) and found that the cherry juice reduced inflammation.

Blackcurrants – Worked with a group of modern pentathletes and gave them a placebo and then blackcurrant juice. They found with the blackcurrant juice they had reduced inflammation and reduced oxidative stress.

Sleep – As you can’t control how you sleep it is about what you do leading into sleep. Suggested that instead of talking about hours of sleep you have had, talked about how many cycles of 90 minutes you get, and how many cycles you need. Then you can add extra in the day if you need to. You need to prepare well to sleep so you get all levels of sleep and not just lighter levels of sleep. One key tip is to breathe through the nose so if you struggle with this look out for tools which can help.

Endurance sport experts

I give lots of talks for Age Group and novice triathletes, runners and cyclists on how they can use Sports Psychology in their training and racing. After the talks I often get asked for recommendations on coaches, nutritionists and other specialists who can help people reach their goals. I thought it might be helpful to pull together those who, from 12 years on the UK Triathlon scene I have worked with, trained with and interviewed for magazines to direct you to some of the very best in our business:

Coachingannieheadshot7

Annie Emmerson is not just the face of triathlon commentating on the BBC but is also a former world class Triathlete and Duathlete and now a triathlon coach. She is approachable and friendly and really knows her stuff when it comes to getting her athletes fit for their races. Her website is at: www.annieemmerson.co.uk/

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 13.39.10 Nutrition

Charlotte Saunders has a first class honours degree in Nutrition, works with the US team Sirius and runs a great business to help athletes get on top of their nutrition. She is also a personal trainer and an absolute speed demon on the bike and running and knows exactly what it takes to get you fueled effectively to race and recover well. www.targetnutrition.org.uk/

Swimming

SFTThe most common question I am asked is where can I learn to swim front crawl. Unless you come from a swimming background when you start in triathlon it is usually the bit that scares most of us. Can you swim non stop in the lake? Can you use breast stroke if you need to? Will I be able to swim surrounded by so many people? Will the fish nibble my toes (yes – that is quite a common question!) Swim for Tri have been running weekly sessions in London and workshops round the UK and internationally for over 10 years and will absolutely be able to help you get round your first race, and then help you get faster once you are addicted. www.swimfortri.com

RunningJames-Dunne-Running

When I meet people who look athletic but are not currently competing it is usually down to one thing. Injury. James Dunne runs KineticRev and has retaught hundreds of runners how to run after injury in ways that should protect them from future injury. He does group workshops all over the UK and his website is full of great strength exercises. Six years ago, after five stress fractures in three years I went to James as a last resort before quitting running for good. I haven’t had a stress fracture since. www.kinetic-revolution.com

Getting startedEddie

If you are over 50 and not done much exercise before then it can be really daunting as to know where to start. Gyms may not seem appealing and clubs may feel elitist. Eddie Brocklesby has set up a great charity called Silverfit, running sessions in parks all over London for over 50s who want to exercise in a welcoming and relaxed environment. www.silverfit.org.uk/

Training socially

Each of us have our own reasons to run; to catch up with friends, to keep Parkrun logoon top of our weight, to stay healthy or to chase new PBs. Whatever your reason Parkrun can help you do that. With free weekly timed 5k runs in 379 parks in the UK and now around the world you can run or volunteer and will always be made to feel welcome and part of the Parkrun gang. www.parkrun.org.uk/

 

Latest research: Sports Psychology

Success

The Sports Psychology conference which took place just before Christmas had masses of research to listen to and digest. The previous blog posts consider specific areas but here are the quick take-aways on six areas: behaviour change, learning and using mental skills, working in extreme environments, supporting youth athletes, improving endurance performance and personality traits.

On behaviour change

  • Working memory can only remember a few points at a time. Never try to sell more than four.
  • Attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds now.
  • When information is cheap then it becomes expensive to get attention. So you must think what are you prepared to pay to get attention. Attention is at the heart of all behavior change issues
  • Strangers and new places are threats – so when trying to get people’s attention we need to do it in places which feel safe to them.
  • Studying motivation in sport is important as it helps us increase our theoretical and practical knowledge so we can change behaviour.

On learning and using mental skills

  • Interventions which have been found to enhance endurance performance are: Goal setting, Imagery, Pre-performance routines, Relaxation and Biofeedback and Self-talk.
  • Goal setting, Self-talk and Imagery have all been found to increase motivation.
  • A Parachute Regiment platoon who had mental skills training improved their mental toughness scores significantly more than those without the training.
  • Self-talk can significantly improve the performance of ultra runners and soldiers.
  • Your ability to do imagery influences how effective you can be at it.
  • Building your confidence before going into a competitive environment and having intrinsic motivation will help you succeed.

On working in extreme environments

  • Before going onto any type of expedition fully prepare for the physical and social environment by identifying and discussing potential expedition scenarios (including personal differences) and agree on a plan as to how to respond and support one another if required.
  • Key areas of growth for someone taking on a polar exploration can be in problem and emotional, solving, coping, positive interpretive processes, hardiness, optimism, conscientiousness, reflection and resilience.

On supporting youth athletes

  • Teach youth athletes coping skills to help them manage the tension between school and sport.
  • Help your youth athlete communicate how they are feeling around their dual role.

On improving endurance performance

  • Avoid mentally draining activities before endurance performance.
  • To improve endurance performance we either need to increase motivation or reduce the perception of effort. To reduce your perception of effort think about your cadence, about relaxing and finding ways to distract yourself.
  • Follow a pace or a pacer when you run to lower heart rate and potentially improve your performance.

On personality traits

  • Athletes with a long term injury who were optimistic reported fewer negative emotions, felt more in control, used more appropriate coping strategies, had higher levels of intrinsic motivation and stuck better to their rehab programmes.
  • Those who are high in mental toughness have an enhanced capacity to experience flow.

Latest research: The importance of social support

Swimmer and coach

Social support is known to be really important in sport, when dealing with injury and in helping you succeed in day-to-day life. It has become increasingly recognised as a key resource for athletes, and has been linked with enhanced coping with organisational stressors, youth sport participation, self-confidence, and lower levels of burnout. Some really interesting pieces of research presented at a recent sports psychology conference tell us more about how social support can impact us.

Highlighting how important it is to have supportive people around you, Adam Coussens from the University of Exeter looked at how athletes perceive the support they get from those around them. He found that when athletes perceive certain individuals to be conscientious, open, and sharing a common identity, they also perceive them to be particularly supportive. Further, if athletes perceive certain individuals to be supportive, athletes will also feel confident. Not only can you get confidence when surrounded by supportive people but your motivation can be improved too. Bryn McCann looked at the impact on athlete motivation and found Peers, Coaches and Parents are three social agents who can impact on an athlete’s motivation.

Finally, some fascinating research from Andrew Cruickshank from the University of Central Lancashire who has been looking at the factors that separate Super Champs (Multiple World or Olympic Medalists) from Champs (GB team) from others (those who are good but may quit before senior selection) and found it comes down to commitment, preparation and reaction to challenge, reflection and reward and the role of coaches and significant others. Specifically on the theory that Talent needs Trauma (i.e. the idea that in order to succeed you must have built strength and resilience by overcoming significant hurdles along the way) they found that the hurdles encountered need to consist of structured challenge that helps athletes develop social and psychological skills. A lovely phrase Andrew used was “It needs to be a plaster, not an amputation” so athletes are not necessarily learning new stuff from trauma, just proving and reminding themselves that they have good psychological strength and skills.