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

Catch the highlights from Friday's lunchtime debate, when ASICS Target 26.2 psychologist Dr Victor Thompson answered your questions about achieving your goal in your spring marathon



Q. When we cross the finishing line, how should we start our recovery process? What should we eat and drink, how often and what should we avoid? What stretching exercises should we do immediately after and later on?  I'm already thinking of the train journey home on Monday! JoeSam

A. 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 up.

Good: Water

Better: energy drink (if you can stomach it)

Best: flavoured milk or some drink with protein

Take these fluids within 20 mins, not in excessive quantities, 500ml is good. Then stretch or get a massage. Take on solid food later, small to moderate portions, grazing quite often. Alcohol isn’t good, but may be desired!

Q. I have entered the VLM  (my fourth marathon in a year) and I have had a horrendous build-up with injuries and flu. Now I’m suffering from overtraining syndrome. I’m finding it difficult to decide whether to do the race as I’m very competitive and I’d planned to go for a PB (sub-3:15). Now this is an impossible task, so I wondered whether you would advise me to sit this one out or to do the race? If so, what should I do to get rid of my angst of underperforming? rower2runner

A. If you are overtrained, you are very  unlikely to get a new PB. Will that be totally dissatisfying? Can you do it just to enjoy it? No?

Then, my advice would be to walk away, review what led to the overtraining situation, and ensure that you return wise and fresh for another marathon challenge.

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

A. Berry, that’s bad news. Further to what I’ve written in my 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’re getting closer to being ready for the 26.2-mile jaunt.

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

Q. Can you tell me why, after 14 weeks of good training where I've run farther and faster than ever before, nine days before my first marathon I'm struggling to run five miles in less than 10 min/miles?

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

Do you have any advice to get me out of this dip and ready for April 22? @KeyserSuz

A. Who hasn’t had a bad run, week, or felt phantom injuries in the lead up to an event? Or, put another way, who’s had a great build-up without any doubts? Anyone? That’s right, no one.

Maybe you are tired? Maybe you are putting too much into the ‘I need to do this distance at this pace while feeling fantastic’ type of training right now.

The result will be known on Sunday afternoon, not before. So do your last nine days of training pretty well, then have a good plan which you follow on Sunday, rise to the challenges, and congratulate yourself for giving it a go. Remember, thousands run it, but millions sit watching it on the sofa. You are risking it, testing yourself; you are one of the brave ones. Well done. You have done so much already!

Q. I've had two marathon experiences that haven't turned out how I hoped. The wheels seem to fall off by mile 23 and I end up having to walk/run the last three miles. Now I'm so worried that I focus on that, and it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can I have a more positive attitude to the last six miles and make sure I get through that final hump when things start to get tough? Daisydoodoo

A. 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? Would that change your bogey last three miles?

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

On the next page: Avoid post-marathon blues, plan your race like the elites and more.


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