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.

Tips from the top: The Sleep Expert

Dr David Lee is the Clinical Director of Sleep Unlimited (www.sleepunlimited.co.uk). Most of his work is helping people with insomnia get some decent sleep but actually lots of what he teaches is brilliant for athletes – helping us understand ourselves, our sleep preferences and our circadian rhythm so we can perform at our best.

Here Dr Lee answers four questions – adopt his advice and you may be able to improve your performance.

  1. How can athletes understand whether they are an owl or a lark?

Most people can identify their preferred time of day just by asking them and there are three ‘chronotypes’: larks, owls and ambivalents.  If you prefer being up early and in bed early then you’re ‘larky’, if you like to get up late and go to bed late then you’re ‘owly’ and if you don’t mind then you’re ambivalent.

2. As most races are in the morning how can owls prepare well so they do not feel tired?

If athletes are well rested on the days (and nights) preceding a race then they should do well whichever chronotype they are.  It is possible to shift your routine for a while, so in the week before a race you can stay up late for a couple of nights and get up early (in synch with the race start time), this will build some ‘sleep pressure’ that will enable you to go to bed earlier and shift your routine backwards for 4 – 5 days before the race.  If it’s a really big event you could try to shift your sleep back a few weeks before so that you are properly entrained to your new routine before race day.  Remember though, that if you are an owl you’ll always have the propensity and innate desire to shift back to later get up times and bedtimes after the racing is done!

3. Why is it important athletes understand how their personal circadian rhythm works?

We peak and dip every 90 minutes as part of our natural body rhythms and it can be very useful to recognise this for a number of reasons:

  • It can help explain reduced performance so we don’t ‘beat ourselves up’ about not performing maximally (it’s just a dip);
  • We can change our gameplay if we know we’re dipping – consolidate – pace – go easy, then 45 minutes later when we’re peaking we can adjust our approach – burst – attack – go hard.
  • We can be more vulnerable in a dip, more likely to make rash decisions, eat the wrong foods, gamble, drink, smoke etc… so if you know about the circadian rhythm and the impact of dipping we can ‘wait 15 minutes’ if we’re feeling vulnerable, this will allow the dip to pass and then we’re less likely to be tempted into self-destructive behaviours as we’ll be more resilient as we go towards and then through a peak.

4. How can athletes identity their circadian rhythm timings so they can train when they will be in a peak?

Easy.  Look out for a naturalistic yawn.  We all do these multiple times a day (often after lunch, and especially in the evening when we’re tired).  Clock the yawn.  Then add 90 minutes onto that time to predict your next dip and so on around the 24 hour clock.  Ninety minutes, or an hour and a half, goes into the 12 hour clock eight times, and if you’re not jetlagged or shift working, or the clocks haven’t just changed in October and March (all things that disrupt the circadian rhythm), then your dips will be consistent around the 24 hour clock – e.g. a dip at 11am will correspond with a dip at 11 pm.  Once you know when your dips are you can:

  • Plan rest in your exercise routines;
  • Plan ‘go easy’ in races;
  • Add 45 minutes onto your dip times to predict peaks when you can go for it in training.and on race day!


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…


Press release: Sporting Brain Box

Brain Box photo

  • Athletes spend many hours each week on their physical fitness – now they have an easy way to also train their brains to be mentally fit.
  • The Sporting Brain Box is a full mental skills toolkit which will allow athletes at all levels to benefit from the techniques taught by sport psychologists.
  • Dr Josephine Perry, Chartered Sport Psychologist at Performance in Mind and Sarah Dudgeon, Designer at Art of your Success have worked together to create the box.

Awareness of the mental side of sport has never been higher. No longer hiding the fact they work with sport psychologists, clubs and athletes now celebrate the successes that they can achieve once they have their mindset on their side. But, not everyone trying to do well in their sport or attempting a challenge has access to a sport psychologist or can afford to see one.

Having seen the benefits that learning mental skills and approaches has on her clients Chartered Sport Psychologist Dr Josephine Perry approached Designer and keen runner and cyclist Sarah Dudgeon, who creates motivational products and gifts for athletes, about collaborating to develop a unique product. The product was to give educational benefit to athletes but in a really accessible and fun way. The Sporting Brain Box was born. The box includes everything needed to learn and put into practice 13 strategies and techniques which don’t just help athletes to cope better with the pressures which come from performing in sport, but actually learn to thrive and enjoy the process of performing.

Based on Perry’s GRASP approach athletes using the box can become skilled in:

Goals: Setting goals and sticking to them by using a goal setting sheet, a training diary and weekly planner.

Racing: Designing mid race or competition tactics to get you through the tough times with a confidence booster, a skills sheet and a mantra.

Awareness: Having high levels of self-awareness through control mapping, seeing your stars in the dark and learning all about your chimp.

Support: Knowing where you get your support from for your sport and from supporting yourself with a bravery box.

Prepared: Being really well prepared so you get to your competition or performance confident and with the right level of mental activation through ‘What if’ planning, a pre-performance routine and developing your personal performance playlist.

Perry is delighted that the box will help those who have never been able to use psychology before. “I love seeing how athletes benefit from learning sport psychology techniques. The improvement in their performances, their new approaches to their sport and the enjoyment they get from it can be really exciting to see. Hopefully the Sporting Brain Box will offer these mental skills to those who may not previously have been able to access sport psychology.”

Dudgeon says “Art Of Your Success is all about inspiring you in your challenges by bringing you products to motivate, organise and celebrate your training & racing.  We’ve seen how athletes like to improve their own performance, while also supporting others.  The box can help both by becoming an essential part of an athlete’s own sports kit, but also an ideal gift for anyone tackling a challenge.”

The box launches on October 3rd and can be purchased from: https://artofyoursuccess.com/celebrate-shop/sporting-brain-box/ for £50 plus £4 postage.

Notes to editors:

  1. High res photos are available on request.
  2. Dr Josephine Perry is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist and runs the Performance Consultancy, Performance in Mind which works with athletes and stage performers to perform at their best under all conditions. Perry has recently published her first book; Performing under Pressure: Strategies for Sporting Success. She also has a love of endurance sports and has raced in triathlons all over the world.
  3. Sarah Dudgeon is a keen runner and cyclist. She’s run over 50 marathons, including a personal best of 3:00:04, and a few silly Guinness World Records along the way, and cycled the whole Tour de France route.  She combines her passions and knowledge of sport and design at ArtOfYourSuccess.com. Here you can find training tips, gifts and stationery, or commission a design for your club or event.
  4. The techniques in the box can help athletes who want to:
  • Reduce anxiety and nerves
  • Boost their confidence
  • Cope better with setbacks
  • Spot helpful patterns of pre-competition behaviours
  • Get to the right level of activation before performance
  • Increase their levels of emotional control
  • Have positive and helpful head chatter doing competitions.

For more information contact Josephine: 07958 519733 or Josie@performanceinmind.co.uk

The super humans – what is the recipe?

Developing shot

The nursery rhyme says little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dogs tails and little girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice. When those little boys and girls grow up and become athletes are they still made of such niceties or has their upbringing, coaching and training made the recipe somewhat more complex? According to research recently published in The Journal of Expertise there are not only a huge number of ingredients that separate these elite athletes from the rest of us but a few more which separate the elites from the super-elites, those who are winning gold medals on world stages.

The super-elite of any section of society are always fascinating. Super-elite athletes, especially Olympians have an additional appeal as we so often watch their exploits on the world stage. Not only are they performing at levels most of us could never imagine, but they do so under the spotlight; millions of people around the globe watching and their only chance to get that medal occurring once every four years. The Great British Medallist’s study was commissioned by UK Sport, with the aim of understanding what it takes to create multiple medal winners. The number of gold medal winning athletes is so small that it is rare for sport psychology studies to be able to delve into their histories in significant depth so this study is pretty unique. This Pattern Recognition Analysis paper is the third paper to be released from the study and makes interesting reading for anyone interested in high level performance and talent identification in any context.

The study analysed the developmental biographies of 16 super-elite athletes (Olympic and World Champions) against 16 elites (competing internationally but did not win a medal). This second group are still pretty handy in their sport, they may well be the best in the country in what they do, but they are not bringing home the bling. The biographies were developed from interviews with the 32 athletes, their coaches and their parents with a goal to identify patterns in their development. The average length of athlete interview was nearly four hours (3:54), significant media research took place before each interview, training logs spanning a year were investigated and the questions took over a year to develop so the process feels robust and the findings seem fascinating.

So what elevates the super-elites from elites?

The first element, noted in previous research and often linked to the concept of post-traumatic growth, is that the super-elites have usually had an early critical negative life experience (something like their parent’s divorcing) and significant performance setbacks along the way. The authors suggest that their sport becomes a compensatory activity; a coping mechanism for their pain.

Lots of studies have looked to see the characteristics and traits which are strong in elites. Interestingly as a practicing psychologist I find that perfectionism is trait that many elites have, but often in a way that causes them negative outcomes. Here these super-elites were found to be high in it but must have found coping mechanisms to overcome the barriers that those not winning medals have been unable to knock down. Other traits found included obsessiveness and ruthlessness – both which will help them achieve the exceptionally high goals their perfectionism sets but may come at the expense of other things in their lives, highlighted by the finding that they perceive sport as more important that anything else in their lives. These traits are joined by an intense perseverance with the study finding that the super elites continue to improve over more years, not getting their first gold medal until they’ve been doing sport for 21 years (plus or minus 6 years).

Backing all of this is the support of others. It is key to performing at the highest levels. This study finds that having a coach who doesn’t just understand the athlete’s physical needs but also their psycho-social ones is key. And this support can come from parents too. The super-elite athletes are not just getting their parent’s genes, they are getting their influence in where they grow up. The super-elites tend to be born and grow up in places with smaller population sizes (70,205 for super-elites and 170,372 for elites). The authors suggest these smaller locations offer more supportive social relationships and informal physical play but perhaps with fewer specialist teams or facilities it also means they have to wait to specialise in their sport, a further (surprising) discriminator.

Finally, and this is an element which makes my heart sing as a sports psych, is that while of course the super-elite want to win, they also have a mastery mindset. They want to ‘be the best one can be’ and that is something they have much more control over. And control helps us perform under pressure.

At an individual level there is little we can do with the study – I’m not about to divorce my husband and move to a much smaller town in order to boost my daughter’s chances of Olympic success (actually she is only 2 and unless scooting is being introduced for the 2036 Olympics we are being pretty premature) but at a governing body level it could have a major impact for talent identification and funding.

The full paper can be downloaded at: https://repository.cardiffmet.ac.uk/handle/10369/10332

Book Review: Start with Why, Simon Sinek

TStart with Whyhe performers I work with often ask which books they should be reading in order to be able to maintain their high performance. There are always two I recommend because their subject matter is so fundamental to being able to perform under pressure; Professor Steve Peter’s Chimp Paradox, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. If we know why we are putting ourselves through the effort and stresses of performance it is easier to stick with it during the dark days. If we focus on bring that why to life and ignoring the shiny distractions we can be truly effective. If we can recognise our chimp and learn to soothe it we can prevent our emotions self-sabotaging our performance.

Interestingly, when I recommend these books almost everyone says they’ve bought at least one of them. They are sitting there on their book shelf. But they have never got the time to read them.

So, here is why you should read Start with Why.

Between 2002 and 2007 I did a part time PhD at the London School of Economics. 5 years of my life. And yet I have no idea what my final title was. I certainly couldn’t tell you what my research found. But what I learnt and will never forget was always to peel away each layer and each question to continue to ask why until I really came to the crux of whatever I was studying. Every draft came back from my supervisor with a WHY sprawled on it. Infuriating at the time (apologies to my amazing supervisor Terhi) but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learnt. And this is where Sinek in Start with Why is trying to get us to.

He is writing his book for those in business but I felt it transfers well over to sport or stage performance. One of the first questions I ask performers when we start working together is why. Why are you on stage? Why do you run? Why is cricket your thing? It is a question very few have an immediate answer to. Often we hone down to their enjoyment of it, the fact they are good at it, that they like winning. All great stuff – but these will often fluctuate as your form comes and goes, injury impacts or your competition season develops. We need to go deeper. We need to know our fundamental why. Because when we truly know our why we can hang everything off it. Decisions are simple: Does this match my why? If it does then let’s go. If not we can turn it down without guilt. It makes sticking with the tough stuff much easier. This track session hurts – but I know why I need to do it. It’s freezing, I don’t want to go to nets practice – but I know why I should.

The book is full of examples of businesses and business leaders who do well because they have a why; Steve Jobs wasn’t trying to build computers, his why was to create a more level playing field, computing was just a route to do that. Southwest airlines were not about being an airline, their why was to help people move around the country. These wider ‘whys’ mean that those companies don’t get stuck in a box of ‘we don’t do that’. Instead they can ask: ‘does this opportunity help level the playing field? Does it help people move round the country? Then why not.’

Since reading this I’ve worked on my why and have made big decisions through that lens. Those decisions feel like the right ones for me and when the doubts creep in I feel comfortable they were good ones. They match my why. And when working with performers and we crack their why their decision making feels easier, their motivation becomes stickier and their performance develops a passion that may have been missing before.

Book review: The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

Power of Habit

I raced in one of those triathlon’s recently where you register and put your stuff in transition at 5:30am and then, because it is in a swimming pool, have to sit around for literally hours until your slot opens up. I had over 400 people ahead of me. I took a grown up ‘work book’ The Power of Habit and a fun chick lit book for when it got boring. I never opened the Chick Lit book and nearly missed my start.

I was enthralled. The Power of Habit is really well researched – as it should be Duhigg studied at Harvard and Yale and has won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. It is full of academic studies but written really accessibly. He has that talent of a comedian, not in that the book is funny but that he cleverly storytells by setting the scene with a real life situation and the behaviours displayed within that situation. He then looks at some of the research around it (but not in a lecturing, referencing way) and meanders through the ideals and the trip hazards and sneakily brings you back to the original situation, almost as a punchline.

He explains the neuroscience behind habits and how they work, why we need them to function and how we can change them, usually one at a time, so we can be more effective, more successful, healthier or happier. Some of the easiest to understand neuroscience explanations I’ve read and watched lately focus on disease (i.e. where something breaks down in our day to day healthy functioning) as this so effectively explains how the function works when healthy and shows the significant differences when broken. Duhigg uses this element really well. It makes the case studies relatable and helps you put yourself in a similar perspective.

I love that he didn’t just read the literature, find some case studies and pull together an argument like so many self-help books do, Duhigg clearly tackled this manuscript with the eye of an investigative journalist. He’s talked to so many experts and been able to transfer their passion and enthusiasm for their findings and experiences onto the page. There are so many stories of real-life people and real-life companies you see the points he is making truly put into action. There is theory here but it is all shown in action and that makes it much more transferable into real life; our real lives.

What I really liked about this book is that whatever habits you are looking to change you can; it isn’t focused on athletes, or business people, or those struggling with performance or relationships. The stories are wide and varied enough (they include Starbucks training, record companies designing hit singles, Target knowing you are pregnant way before you announce it, gambling addictions, blue collar safety and sporting success) that you can see in each element how you could use the knowledge yourself. My favourite element was actually around the way businesses manipulate us by understanding our decision making and habits around buying.  It will make you think about your own habits and reflect on how much other people are manipulating you by understanding them. If we understand our own habit loops we can have that power too.

Book review: Need for the bike, Paul Fournel

NeedforthebikeI recently broke my elbow. It at the end of a triathlon I was savagely thrown off my bike by a bump or a dent in the road and so now, in the glorious heat of the summer, having suffered all winter, I cannot get my reward and go out riding (or running, or swimming, or do anything I usually consider fun). My big bottom lip sulking about this on twitter inspired the fabulous James Spackman from Pursuit books to stick Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike in the Post for me.

I was a little dubious when the first chapter was titled: Violent Bike. But to be fair this book covers every element of cycling and can you even be considered a cyclist if you haven’t experienced that violent bike? It offers snapshots of the crashes, the hot dusty days, the races, the deep friendships, the bikes and equipment and the lifelong love of all things cycling. The chapters match our riding. Short and sharp sprinty sections, long meandering lengthier segments, all reflective after a lifetime on the bike.

The short chapters help its poetic structure reel you in. These are the musings of a man who has spent many many hours on a bike, contemplating how his bike has shaped him, his life and his mind. The book is elegantly crafted – not just in the poetry of the language used but even in its design with the author’s love of Campagnolo reflected in the chapter fonts.

Paul Fournel comes from a different world than most of us. We did not grow up in a town famed for its love of cycling. We have not sat within the peloton during a grand tour. We haven’t committed to work on a bike in Paris. But Fournel successfully speaks to our version of our cycling story in our world. Our first bike ride. Our day feeling like a cyclist. Our first race. Our favourite coffee stop. Our favourite hot chocolate on a freezing cold ride. The days when our legs feel great and the days when they inexplicably abandon us. The “oh yes – such a beautiful way of describing it” moments appear in almost every chapter.

You finish the book knowing Paul Fournel does not just ride a bike, that he is a French man riding his bike. The book oozes France. You find your imagery while reading it bringing every stereotype to life with garlic and red wine practically seeping through the pages. And full of such masculinity too that along with the garlic and the red wine I could almost feel the heavy male sweat.

If you have fallen out of love with your bike recently this is a wonderful way to remind yourself of what you used to love about it and send you off to your garage to dust it off. If you are still in love with your bike this will remind you why and send you off to the bookshelf (or more likely now phone) to start mapping out your next adventure.


Book review: The Passion Paradox, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

If you want some basic, good quality health and wellbeing advice then Brad Stulberg is your guy. His twitter feed (@BStulberg) is full of simple common sense and his articles, while always evidence based, are written in a way you actually want to read. He turns the driest of journal papers into actionable advice.

I figured the book he has recently written with Steve Magness (a running coach) would be good. And it is. It looks at Passion; a characteristic many of us have for something in our lives; either a sport, a hobby, an idea, a thing or a ideology. It highlights the benefits of that passion but also shows where it can all go horribly wrong when we take it too far.

Almost every athlete I work with as a sport psychologist has immense passion for their sport and initially I thought this was necessary. But spend a few years with athletes and you see that it is those who overdo that passion; who make it their entire self-identity, become obsessive, and who block out other things in their lives who struggle the most. We can be too passionate, and when we are, the thing that used to give us such joy starts to elicit misery.

Stulberg and Magness’s book takes us through these pros and cons of passion and helps us to shape our own passion in a way which provides balance and success so we have a genuine choice about what we do with our passion.

I really liked the box out advice sections (the Passion Practices) which make the book really usable. Other elements (like short sections on self-distancing) were also great to give instant accessible research outcomes we can instantly apply to ourselves.

I felt reassured the authors promote mastery mind sets (so managing to master the process rather than focusing on the outcomes) as this is a message I use all the time with athletes and can make a real difference to their enjoyment of sport. I also love the focus on fear which can sometimes push our passion projects. Many pop-psychology books are so focused on the positive they ignore what fuels many of us – our fears.

The book is really easy to read, instantly applicable to your own passion and very much needed in a world that idolises passion way beyond a level that is healthy.