Saturday, 27 February 2016

Learning about some of the mental aspects of running

I like the saying 'every days a school day' and the idea that it's always time to learn something new and running is no different.  

Last Wednesday was certainly one of these days as I attended the third part of 'legs, head, heart' @RunningWorks, a seminar looking at some of the mental aspects of long distance running.

I really enjoyed the evening and took away a lot of learning points. The talks from Dr Dan Gordon and Andrew Cohen-Wray also posed me several questions I could apply to my training and racing as I seek to improve. 

Here are some points I learnt from the evening which I hope you will find useful: 

First up Dr Dan spoke about pacing, an understanding of what pacing actually is and means as well as insights into research findings from Anglia Ruskin University's studies into marathon pacing. 

An understanding of pacing, Dr Dan explained that everyone paces, even small kids playing in the play ground. 

Judging your pace successfully is about optimising your physical performance. This is the basic idea of being able to run any given distance in your fastest possible time. We tend to think of pacing more in terms of long distance running but it's good to remember that even Usain Bolt has to pace himself over his sprint distances. 

Pacing is physiological and emotional

The brain regulates your pace based on comparisons to your previous runs.

The idea of global experience or being able to relax ahead of a marathon because you have ran several before and completed many long runs so you can think, 'I have been there and I have done that' and you are not fazed by the challenge that lies ahead of you. This experience of having done things before is important as experience matters when it come to pacing you need to have a frame of reference based on previous race experiences. 

Pacing well in training does not equate to pacing well in a marathon. Pacing is a learnt response and cannot be learnt through training. 

If you are interested in trying to calculate what pace you should be running your next marathon at a useful tool might be the flying runner pace calculator. 

The second part of the talk was from Andrew Cohen-Wray, Athlete in mind sharing his thoughts on marathon mental preparation. 


He posed some interesting questions to think over that are quite hard to get your head around. When training for a specific goal, whether it being completing a distance or finishing in a certain time 'what will happen if you don't get it?' Or 'what won't happen if you don't get it?'. I found these ideas really interesting and gave me a lot to think over.


Then to help you deal with any fears you might have about a race naming your fears can help, knowing what you are afraid of can help you to overcome them and to worry less. Also thinking about what's the worse that could happen? Being aware of the worse case scenario can help you to prepare for all eventualities. 


It's a common concept that a lot of us do, break your event down into chunks to help you cope with the overall task. Whether this is by mile, kilometre, 10K section, next jelly baby or energy gel or next lap. 

A marathon is after all only 8 and a bit parkruns if you look at it that way! 

The two most important things I took away for the evening though are as follows: 

'Learning the difference that makes the difference'

What little thing can you change to your training or race preparation that will make a big difference? Whether it's mental or physical there will be little things that can make a change. 

'Be the best that you can be'

Be aware of your own limitations and know what your capable of achieving in both training and a race. E.g. Can you realistically commit to a long run every weekend during marathon training if you work full time and have family commitments? This leads to the idea that 'you can only do what you can do with what you have'. I know I do not have the body and physical capabilities to run a 2.30 marathon neither do I have the finances to have a weekly massage or personal training sessions three times a week. I know however that with the right training I can run a sub 4 hour marathon and that needs to be my focus. 

So that's my closing thought, be the best you can be, learn what you can and work hard to achieve your goals, simples!