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Spring Marathon preparation

by kirsty
Friday 15th February 2013
 
 

Interview: Kirsty Reade talks to performance coach, Midgie Thompson of Bright Futures Coaching and author of ‘Winning Strategies for Sports and Life’

As spring marathons approach, let Run247 be your guide for all things marathon. Whether you’re a terrified first-timer, a multiple marathoner, whether you’re competing or completing, we will have just the content you need.

First up we have an interview with inspirational performance coach, Midgie Thompson of Bright Futures Coaching and author of ‘Winning Strategies for Sports and Life’. Based on years of experience of coaching professional and amateur athletes, as well as business leaders, and drawing on her own experiences as a marathon runner and triathlete, she talked us through some fantastic strategies for delivering the best possible performance in your race.


Setting your goal

While having a time goal is great for some runners, particularly more experienced ones, Midgie likes to encourage people not to focus exclusively on time. One goal = one chance to succeed and one chance to fail. Midgie likes to think about the time as an outcome, rather than the be all and end all goal. She recommends that you have several other goals, such as achieving a consistent pace throughout your race, keeping a positive mindset for the duration, and getting your nutrition right. These are things you can control and if you get all of these things right, the time you want will naturally follow.

Midgie points out that time goals add stress and mentally stressing makes your muscles constrict and impedes performance. Instead of being a slave to your watch, get in touch with your body and know how it feels to run your chosen pace. Run on feel. The more relaxed you are in attitude and approach, the better your performance.

Let’s face it, anybody who runs a marathon invests a huge amount of time and effort, compromises other areas of their life and achieves a great deal just by finishing. The last thing you want to do is to go through all of that and end up being disappointed. Take Midgie’s advice, set several goals and you will always be able to take positives away from your race.

Spring Marathon preparation


Dealing with injury

Many of us will have to deal with injury somewhere along the way in our training programmes. How long will you be out for? Can you still do the race? How can you cope with the uncertainty? First off, seek medical advice. A professional can tell you whether it’s medically recommended that you still do the race (but will you listen?). Perhaps you can still run it but you will have to reassess your goal. This is where having other goals can be helpful.

Midgie recommends asking yourself how important the race is. How does it fit into the big picture of your life? There will be other marathons; is it all important that you do this one or could you rest, fully recover and focus on other areas of your life for a while? Midgie wrote her book while nursing an injured knee.

She also suggests mental visualisation to help you recover more quickly. She likes to imagine tiny menders with knitting needles mending your knee ligaments (especially relevant for Midgie right now), or a healing light shining on your injury. You should also keep up mental rehearsals as this can contribute to getting you back on your feet more quickly. In a study basketball players were divided into 3 groups: one that was allowed to practice throwing; one that mentally rehearsed throwing; and one that just threw hoops with no preparation. The first 2 groups achieved better results than the last one. So spend time picturing yourself running again, running strong and with perfect form. Mental visualisation is powerful and we will touch on this again.


Staying positive in your preparation

It’s all too easy to let negative thoughts creep in as you approach race day. Have I done enough training? Can I achieve my goal? Can I even finish? How can you get to the start line feeling positive and confident?

Firstly, Midgie points out that if you have followed a training plan, trust it. But, if you haven’t done enough training, do you need to revise your goal? Something that Midgie emphasises that struck a particular chord with me, and is relevant to every single one of us is this: we do the best that we can on the day given the circumstances. It would be pretty rare to get through a marathon training plan without some kind of setback. We have to work with this and adjust expectations accordingly.

There are however many things we can do to minimise the possibility of letting things affect our performance on race day. Midgie uses the analogy of the runner having a tank of energy but the more of this energy that leaks out, the more impact it will have on performance. Stresses at home or work can leak energy from your tank, as can having to do too much thinking on race day. Midgie recommends being really organised so you don’t have to think about anything. Make a checklist of everything you need to take with you, everything you have to do on the morning, even everything you need to do the day or week before. Have a plan and take all of the thinking out of it. Thinking takes energy. Energy you need for the race.

Spring Marathon preparation


Staying positive on race day

We’ve all been there, whether it’s in a race or on a training run. The doubt creeps in, you’re feeling rubbish, your legs are heavy, all you want to do is stop. Midgie, what do we do?

Can you run 1 mile? Yes. Well then, just do that 26 times! Break it down into chunks. Focus on that next mile, the next water stop, even the next lamppost. Struggling at mile 23? Only a parkrun to go and you love parkrun! The minute we think about how far we have left to go we let those negative thoughts creep in. But Midgie points out that we have a choice about what we focus on. Acknowledge it’s hurting and move on. Focus on something positive instead. You can break up those negative thoughts with lots of different strategies. Two of Midgie’s recommendations are: imagine there are wings on your shoulders propelling you forward; or think of a giant rubber band that’s pulling you onwards. Little things like this can just break those negative thoughts and get you back on track again.

Another strategy Midgie recommends is to keep considering why you’re doing this. How is your life going to be different after this race? You’ve picked a goal, worked hard for it and achieved it. How can that not have an effect on your life? Never lose sight of why you’re doing it, whether it’s to remember a loved one, to raise money, just because you can or because others can’t. Midgie ran her first marathon only 11 months after being so ill that she couldn’t even get out of bed and having never run before. That race had a profound significance for her. Harness those powerful thoughts. Many of us go through tough times - losing loved ones, divorce, personal hardship – maybe these are the reasons we’re running our race. If you’re capable of running a marathon, just think what else you’re capable of in your life.


During the race

What if I hit THE WALL? If you think about this too much you will! It’s a physiological problem, generally down to nutrition. The physiological answer is that if you start to feel like you’re flagging, take some action and eat something. Know the signs and take preventative action. But this also raises a bigger question: how do you cope when things go wrong? Midgie’s excellent recommendation is to know what could go wrong and mentally rehearse these situations. Imagine yourself struggling and what you’ll do and you’ll be ready for anything. Visualisation is a very powerful tool and you can harness it to make sure you’re prepared for every eventuality.

Nutrition seems to be a very common thing that runners worry about. They are concerned about eating too much and feeling ill, or not eating enough and running out of energy. We’re all different and we have to find out what works for us. But the time to do this is on our long runs, not on the day. By the time your marathon comes around you should have experimented with eating different breakfasts at different times, what and how much to drink, what gels work for you. As Midgie says, if you tell yourself often enough that you’ll struggle with nutrition on the day, you will. So experiment now and take the thinking out of it on the day. Save your energy.

Spring Marathon preparation


Train your confidence muscle!

We go to the gym or the track to train our muscles but what do we do to train our confidence levels? Just like any muscle in the body, if you train your confidence regularly it will get stronger. One thing Midgie likes to recommend is writing a confidence resume. Write down all the things that make you feel good about yourself, perhaps jot down 3 – 5 per day. These don’t have to be huge things, it could be that you went out training when the weather was awful and you didn’t feel like it. Give yourself a pat on the back for that. When you’re having a wobble about your training look back at your confidence resume and remind yourself why you should be confident.

Is there something you’re incredibly proud of? A particularly tough race, your first 10k, a great performance? Visualise how it made you feel, take a mental picture of it and use this as an anchor that you can tap into to evoke a positive response when you need it. It doesn’t have to be a mental image, it could be a song that has a special memory for you. When you’re starting to doubt yourself, call this image to mind or use that song to give you a boost. Midgie described it as being like a Pavlov’s dog response – you hear the song and it instantly makes you positive. If you practise this consciously a few times a day, or as often as you need to, it will become like second nature in a race. You can use this strategy to focus on something positive.

It’s hard to sum up all the fantastic information Midgie shared with me, but here are a few tips I took away from our conversation:

  1. Do the best that you can do on the day, given the circumstances.
  2. Have several goals, not just a time goal.
  3. Trust your training. If you haven’t trained enough, adjust your goal.
  4. Visualise the day: everything that could go wrong and how you’ll deal with it, how it will feel to achieve your goal. Use this to stay positive.
  5. Be organised. Take all the thinking out of things.
  6. Keep in mind why you’re doing it and tap into those thoughts to keep you going.
  7. Create an anchor – a song or picture you can call to mind to give you a boost.
  8. Focus on the positives! Choose to kick negative thoughts to the kerb.

 

Midgie is just about to publish a book, ‘Winning Strategies for Sports and Life’, which is full of great tips for achieving your best performance. It will be available on Amazon as a print book and eBook. I’ve read a sample chapter and it’s fascinating and full of real life examples of these strategies in action. If you want to get the best out of your performance I urge you to get a copy.

Follow Midgie on Twitter at @MidgieThompson

 

With thanks to Sue, Teresa, Tom, Bill and Amy for sharing their race fears to inform this article.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 

 
 
 
 
 

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