Ask the Experts: Marathon Mental Strength Q&A with Dr Victor Thompson

Master the marathon with advice from psychologist Dr Victor Thompson

21 to 40 of 56 messages
13/04/2012 at 13:12

From Pamela Bruce:

I'm a first-time marathoner who's running the Edinburgh marathon.  I've done a 20 mile race as part of my training but am struggling to fit in long runs (15+) with work / family commitments.  Is it as effective to do several shorter runs (i.e. 10 miles)?

My reply:

There is a balance between quality and quantity. Yes mileage is important, but so too is mileage run at the right pace and doing what you think is relevant for the marathon. So, short, or long runs done with you saying to yourself that this is too short, too slow, too hilly, too fast or whatever, will only lead you to believe on race day that you aren’t prepare, to have lower confidence and more stress. Therefore, leading to a probable poorer event. So, do what you can, do what you think is most relevant and see how it is helping you prepare for the day.

 Best of luck

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:14

From Kittenkat:

How do you suggest people deal with the fact that they might not get a personal best in distance again. I'm very competitive and did very well in 2009, now I can't seem to get that edge back and am finding it depressing.

I'm 41 now, how can I change my mindset to still enjoy racing? I've never been one to 'just enjoy the experience'.

My reply:

Thanks for your question. This is a tricky one for the runner. Early in our running careers performance increases, times tumble and things are good. Then we start to plateau and this is a testing time. I recommend that you see this as a challenge – to manipulate your training to try to be better prepared. Have a race plan for the day that covers pacing, nutrition, and your focus during the event. Ensure that your attitude is to see the day as a challenge, something to rise to, to do your best at and to see what happens. Your body is slightly different day to day, with lots of changes so you never know exactly what you have to show on race day. The goal becomes to do your best, and if you have done this, then you can be satisfied no matter what time you get. Plus, this strategy will likely maximise the chance that you will get a new PB!

 Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:17

Hi Victor

I am entered at VLM (my 4th marathon in 12months) and i have had a horrendous run up with injuries and flu and now I am suffering from overtraining syndrome. I am finding it difficult to decide whether to do the race as I am very competitive and had it in my mind to go for a PB (sub 3:15) but now it is an impossible ask so wondered whether you would advise me to sit out of this one or to do the race and if so what to do in order to get rid of my angst of underperforming.

Many thanks

R2R

13/04/2012 at 13:20

Hi Victor,

Just yesterday I had to concede defeat and with withdraw from this year's race after a series of  injuries stopped my training short at 16 miles. I'm now really scared about building up my distance again for fear of once again experiencing the crippling pain that pulled me up short miles from home. Though I have plans to prevent the injuries happening again in future, how do I regain the confidence I need in time to decide whether to enter next year's race by the June deadline?

Thanks,

Berry

13/04/2012 at 13:21

From Gladrags:

Mine is a simple question - what are your tips for maintaining motivation when it starts to flag?

Generally I am ok but I have had 2 bad races when my mind took matters into its own hands and I stopped running. Physically I could have run but mentally, the fact that conditions weren't quite right (temperature/crowds) led to this despair that could not be overcome.

So how can I give myself a good talking to and motivate myself to keep going when it gets tough?

My reply.

Thanks for your question

Consider ahead of the race:

  1. how you will manage the event so that this challenge is unlikely to develop
  2. If it is to develop, how will you spot it early (e.g., signs of fatigue, negative self-talk...)
  3. What can you do to manage it if it develops so you continue to press on, hold your pace, be okay with the challenge. This may be a combination of helpful self-talk or statements, reminding yourself of your strategy, of your goal etc. Perhaps you can recall what has helped you to tough it out before in races or life.

 Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:22
Dr Victor - many thanks. Very helpful - I will go & think of positive, realistic, images now
13/04/2012 at 13:28

From Kyle Coulter:

Hi Victor

This is more a question about 'not racing' than racing. I was supposed to be running Brighton on Sunday but picked up an injury to my foot right at the start of my taper which is going to put me out of action for at least 6 weeks. I'm pretty gutted and feeling a bit down about it all as my training had gone really well. Any words of wisdom?

Thanks Kylie

My reply:

Surely it is the wisest who back off, retreat and then come back to battle (or racing) fitter and better prepared. This is better than ploughing through with an injury following a programme or plan only to end up being unable to run for months or ever again.

Accept that stuff (or insert expletive) just happens. Review what went well and not so well in training? What, if anything, may have led to your injury? Why is it good now to back off and recover? What can you do to use the time now – cross training, other activities, meeting friends, reading...? How will you stage your comeback – in terms of training and racing – now that you have become more experienced and wiser?

You will come fitter and stronger.

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:31

From Chris:

Hi Victor,

I'm in a similar situation to Kylie above. Also picked up an injury to my right ankle 6 weeks ago and it's seriously affected my training since then. With London in a weeks time things do not look great. Am seeing a specialist this afternoon to try and get a definitive diagnosis, but fear the "do not run for xx weeks" line. Will be devasated if this is the case. How to deal with this? Have tried to learn to love swimming and cycling, but it's just not cricket, I mean, running!

Thanks, Chris.

My reply:

Chris, like for Kyle above, if you have to take time out and have to pull out of the race, see this as a good decision, a phase, something that you will bounce-back from. Fighting it will only bring you more stress and then you’ll have to accept it later anyway.

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:35
Hi Victor,

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

Mine is a fairly common issue: can you tell me why, after 14 weeks of good training where I've run farther and faster than ever before, 9 days before my first marathon I'm struggling to run 5 miles in less than 10 minute miles?

I think I know the answer, and that is that my nerves are getting in the way. The trouble is, every bad run I have makes it worse!

Do you have any tips or specific things to do to get myself out of this dip and ready for Sunday, April 22nd?

Thank you.
13/04/2012 at 13:38

From Berry Nic e:

Hi Victor,

Just yesterday I had to concede defeat and with withdraw from this year's race after a series of  injuries stopped my training short at 16 miles. I'm now really scared about building up my distance again for fear of once again experiencing the crippling pain that pulled me up short miles from home. Though I have plans to prevent the injuries happening again in future, how do I regain the confidence I need in time to decide whether to enter next year's race by the June deadline?

Thanks,

Berry

My reply:

Berry, that’s bad news. Further to what I’ve written in my 2 posts above, you need to develop a good plan for recovery, have a good physio and/or sports masseur who will help give you an MOT to check for niggles early (if your injury is a soft tissue one), then develop a gradually progressive run program that will help you physically get ready. This program will include distance and pacing that will be relevant to the marathon so as you follow the program you gain confidence that you are getting closer and closer to being ready for the 26 mile jaunt.

Oh, and enter it in June, show a bit of faith and take the risk that you might just be ready and have a great marathon in 2013!

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:40
Hi Victor,

I am preparing for my fourth London marathon and having broke 3hours at London for the first time last year am in a good place mentally to do it again and hopefully go sub 2:55.

I have visualised a race plan (first 3miles at no quicker than 6:40 pace) and then churn out the 6:30/6:35 miles up to 20miles before "having a go" in the last 6miles. I have done tons of training at mara pace and have learnt from past marathons that the "money in the bank" (i.e. start quick and hang on) philosophy does not work for me.

I am sure that even though I have a plan there will be times in the race when either I want to go faster or have a bad patch ....Do you have any practical tips on how to overcome these eventualities?

Kind regards

Michael
13/04/2012 at 13:42

Hi Victor,

Since my last long run two weeks ago, the taper seems to feel like an anti-climax and for the first time I'm not raring to go out running. Is this common and will I be OK come race day? Whats the best things to do to get motivated during this taper period?

Thanks,

13/04/2012 at 13:46
Hi Victor, I've found I have 2 problems with preparing mental strategies: 1) is that I start using them too early in the race and so get bored with them and 2) is that I always seem to make up a better one on the day ie the prepared ones I've thought will work, don't and a new one just comes to me.  What are your thoughts? Thanks
13/04/2012 at 13:47

From DL

Hello Victor - and thanks for taking the time to help

Mine is a first timer's question really - having only trained to 20 miles the extra 6 loom quite large (and seem to be getting larger). Not helped by the fact that people say half the race is to 20 then it really begins. I know I need to treat the marathon with respect but that 'extra 6' is beginning to look harder and longer every time I think about it.

I'm slightly worried that over thinking the whole thing is making me become ever more conservative in my aims. Half marathon and 20 mile races indicate I should be able to get a 4.40ish time - but in my head I'm now worrying and thinking I should aim for a 5 hour time so I don't blow everything. Any advice you can give to help me get those little voices in my head to be on my side for a change would be appreciated!

Thanks

My reply:

Dear DL

So the last 6 miles is like another 20, eh? What if it is like 50, 40, 30, 10, 6, 3, 2 or 1? If you predict that it will be massive, a nightmare, then it is likely that it will be. What about double marathon runners or ultra runners, how do they experience miles 20 to 26, 45 to 50, or 56 to 62? Yes, you will be more tired towards the end as your body has done more work by then. But, is the fatigue due to expectation, not enough carbs (a caffeinated gel at mile 18 anyone?) or poor pacing?

RE Times: Consider your training, your form and ability. Many people go off to hard and blow their race by the time 30 minutes is over, but some also are too conservative and wonder at the finish if they should have pushed themselves a bit more. Pick a good pace for you, review it every 5 miles or more often, keep on top of energy levels and enjoy the challenge.

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:49
Hi Victor
Sorry it's a similar question to Gladrags. I've had 2 marathon experiences that haven't turned out how I had hoped. The wheels seem to fall off by mile 23 and I end up having to walk/run the last 3 miles. But now I'm so worried that I focus on that, and it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy now. How can I have a more positive attitude to the last 6 miles and make sure I get through that final hump when things start to get tough?
Thank you
13/04/2012 at 13:50
Hi Victor,

My question's about pre-race nerves. I'm running my first marathon in Manchester in a few weeks, I suffer from anxiety and am worried that the crowds and anticipation could cause me to panic. Do you have any advice for keeping calm beforehand so I'm in a good state of mind to run?

Thanks
Rachel
13/04/2012 at 13:53

From JoeSam:

Hi Victor,

Just interested to know, when we cross the finishing line and collected our bits and pieces, how should we start our recovery process e.g. what to eat and drink and how often and what to avoid? and what stretching exercises should we do after and later on?  I'm just thinking of my journey home on the train on monday!

Many thanks in advance

Reply:

While I’m not a coach or nutritionist, my experience as a triathlete (with some pure run races too) gives these guides:

Move! Walk a bit afterwards to stop the body seizing.

Good: Water

Better: energy drink (if you can stomach it)

Best: flavoured milk or some drink with protein

These fluids within 20 mins, not excessive quantities, 500ml is good.

Then stretch or get massage rub down.

Solid food later. Small to Moderate portions, grazing quite often.

Alcohol isn’t good, but may be desired!

Victor

13/04/2012 at 13:56
Hi Victor, can you recommend any ‘mind tricks’ that you can do over the last few miles when you are really pushing it to the max. For example I’ve read that Paula Radcliffe repeatedly counts to 100 to take her mind off the pain.
13/04/2012 at 13:57

From Daisydoodoo

Hi Victor
Sorry it's a similar question to Gladrags. I've had 2 marathon experiences that haven't turned out how I had hoped. The wheels seem to fall off by mile 23 and I end up having to walk/run the last 3 miles. But now I'm so worried that I focus on that, and it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy now. How can I have a more positive attitude to the last 6 miles and make sure I get through that final hump when things start to get tough?
Thank you

My reply:

What do you eat (gels, banana, jelly babies?) and drink during the marathon

What if you viewed the race as 30 miles, with the finish sprung on you anytime from miles 25 onwards? Might that change your bogey last 3 miles?

What if with 3 miles to go you were joined by an imaginary friend who was really encouraging? Or an archrival? Or someone who told you that you couldn’t do it? Would any of those ‘events’ help you?

Victor

13/04/2012 at 14:01
Thanks Victor - much appreciated
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