I first started running on the roads near my home to keep fit; these were quiet country roads with very little traffic and lots of greenery to see. When I went to university I ran the Great North Run for charity, where I found myself running through the city and suburbs. On moving to Skipton I (eventually) joined the local running club where I was introduced to some off road running, including my first off road half marathon. At this time I was still also doing some road races and working on good 5km and 10km times, but somehow, in training, my legs would always take me onto the trails where I could immerse myself more in nature. It was only when I began working with a coach and he asked me why I was training on trails yet my goals were all road based that I had the epiphany that really, the thing I liked doing was trail running. So what’s the difference between road running and trail running? And what does it take to convert from the road to the trails?
I am lucky enough to have always been able to climb pretty effectively, perhaps because I love being at the top of mountains. However, I know (and have been told on more than one occasion) that liking climbing is ‘a bit weird.’ The majority of people I run with (but not all) struggle with hills both psychologically and physically finding it difficult to keep a pace or keep running. Now there is no doubt that we cannot run up all parts of a mountain, but thinking about it there are certain things that I do in running and training which help me keep going and get to the top. I thought I’d share a few of these things with you to help you conquer those hills.
There is increasing evidence to show that physical activity can have a positive effect on mental health. I recently read an article which stated how doctors in some countries are prescribing exercise for patients with low mood and depression. Throughout my career I have worked with a variety of people who have used physical activity to improve their mental well-being. So, how does this relate to endurance sport in particular? And when does ‘physical activity’ become ‘sport’? I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about how my own running career has helped me maintain better mental health.
Sports psychology is becoming increasingly popular in the world of sport. This is for good reason, as athletes search for ways to improve and gain the edge on the competition, they realise that a very significant proportion of sporting success is down to having the right mindset. Psychological skills are not just for the elite, as learning to think positively and effectively will help performance at all levels. Reinforcing and enhancing these skills and a success mindset with hypnosis serves to strengthen the power and focus of your mind.
So, how can you use self-hypnosis and mental skills to enhance your performance as a cyclist, runner or triathlete?
Negative thoughts, known as negative self talk is probably the most common way to mess up your confidence and sabotage your performance. One really effective technique to move to more positive thinking is using what is known as the stop-clap technique. I thought it would be useful to explain how it works and how you can use it.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do as an endurance athlete is to accept that making easier sessions really easy is the best way. I have found this from personal experience and from working with many athletes over the years, so I thought it would be useful to write some thoughts and explanations of why and perhaps how to do slower/easier sessions.
So, why train slower to race faster? Training at a slower pace will be less taxing on your system but will still develop your aerobic fitness, it will allow to train more with less fatigue and have the energy to focus on the faster sessions that combine for optimal race performances. Too much faster training can make you slower.
Many people feel anxious about their training sessions and races, particularly the harder or more important ones. I thought it would be useful to explore this a little more and explain how you can use process goals to reduce or remove this anxiety and stress.
So, how can you use process goals to avoid anxiety about your hard sessions? Process goals are steps that you can control that result in a successful session. Focusing on process goals will shift your focus from the outcome, which isn’t completely in your control, to processes that are within your control, which is far less stressful.
When I start working with someone new I always spend some time learning about things they have done so that I understand what has worked for them in the past and what hasn’t worked so well. I thought it would be useful to explain how I go about this so that other people can learn from my experiences.
So, how do you learn from your past to get fitter and faster? Look at hard data first, heart rate, power, pace and any associated comments, don’t rely on memory at least initially.
In my experience, there are pros and cons to going on a training camp. I thought it would be useful to spend some time thinking about these and doing some research to help evaluate the best way forward.
So, do I need a training camp to get fitter? No, you do not need a training camp to get fitter for cycling or running and in some cases, going on a training camp can be worse than staying at home.
Over the years I have read many books about training, coaching, nutrition, strength and conditioning, etc. Some of these have been very useful and some less useful. This blog provides a review of the ones I have found to be of most practical use along with a few that are just a good and inspiring read.
Chatting a to a running friend who had completed her first 3 Peaks Race in the UK, her own experience resonated so much with my own; she hadn’t got her food intake right and felt she could have run far better had she fuelled better. As general guidance most articles and books I have read advise 30g to 60g of carbohydrate per hour, or 100 to 300 calories per hour if you prefer. However, there are many variables that come in to play
Chapter 7: Think better, perform better: Here are some practical techniques in sports psychology that can be used to make real gains in performance. Try asking yourself a couple of questions: What proportion of your performance do you think is due to your mind? What proportion of the training time do you commit to training your mind? My guess is that there will be a discrepancy between the two answers…
Chapter 6: Longer term (phased) training plans: Once you get into your sport more and more you may start to think about goals that are further in the future. For example you may have done some competitions this year and think it would be good to see whether you can do better next year. To meet these longer term goals it is a good idea to make a longer term plan for success.
Undoubtedly if you are carrying extra weight, then losing some weight will reduce the amount of work you have to do, especially when running up those mountains! However, I have all too often seen runners lose too much weight and begin the slow decline towards multiple injuries, fatigue and declining performance. Being a healthy weight will help you be a better runner, being too thin can, however, be just as damaging to both your overall health and your performance as carrying too much weight.
Chapter 5 - Weight, diet and nutrition: The subject of this chapter involves three related concepts that are important to consider if you want to take part in competitive sport. Whilst you won’t achieve sporting success as a direct consequence of your weight, diet and nutrition, it is certainly true that not eating properly will reduce or even negate your chances of success.
Chapter 1: How do I become a fitter, faster, better cyclist or runner: The basic principles of training for sport are simple and needn’t be complicated. Some of the theories are complicated but it isn’t necessary to understand these to achieve amazing things. What I want to do is produce a simple guide to training and competing that is accessible yet provides the basic requirements for an athlete at any level.
I was first introduced to the concept of hypnotherapy in sport by John. John had used hypnosis with several clients to good effect, included Karen Darke (pictured above). John and I used the technique to enable me to become more focussed and positive when racing. I used the skills we had practised in hypnosis to good effect during the Dentdale Run in 2012 going on to win the ladies race, something which I never thought possible. It was this positive effect of hypnosis that inspired me to go on and become a qualified hypnotherapist myself in 2013. So yes, hypnosis can help you have a more positive mindset and achieve performance goals.
I’m sitting in the house after 10 days off from running due to a horrible cold. This is rare for me, normally I will train through anything, hating to miss any days. So was I right to take those ten days off? A few key factors led me to take time off: 1) I felt faint after mild exertion; 2) I had a hacking cough; 3) I was feverish; 4) it began as a mild sore throat, which I trained through and got steadily worse over three days. So on the Saturday when I was not sure whether or not to train I e-mailed my coach explained all the above and we agreed rest was best on this occasion.
I was first converted to training and racing with a heartrate monitor after pacing some key races badly. I had trained hard for these races and wanted to do well, but it became clear to me that I was not good at pacing. Since starting to use a heartrate monitor I have consistently used this to help me both train and race with some success.
There are many people who run mountain races who never win or get a podium finish. In fact, most people are in this situation and when I first started mountain racing, I never expected to win at all. The fact that I am sometimes lucky enough to stand on the podium is a lovely bonus but certainly not the reason that I am a mountain runner, or that I take part in races.
I’ve run a few mountain races in my time, some I seem to have paced really well, finishing strong, others I’ve barely been able to run through the finish line. My typical pattern is to run so hard up the climb that I’m too tired to descend well leading to a fall or a disheartening number of people overtaking me on the descent.
One question I often get asked is ‘how do I use my heart rate monitor?’ or ‘what are heart rate training zones?’ or ‘how do I set and use heart rate training zones?’. With this in mind, I thought it would be useful to write an article on what a heart rate monitor is used for, what you can learn from using one and perhaps more importantly, how can a heart rate monitor benefit your exercise and training?
I’m sitting here thinking about the races I have run over the years. Some have been good and some have been bad, sometimes I’ve been on my period mostly I haven’t, by luck rather than design. So does being on my period mean that my athletic performance is going to be so impaired there’s just no point getting to the start line? Over the last few years there has been a lot more openness about this topic, so I wanted to find a definitive answer to this question.
Marquixannes is a little village about a half hour drive away from Casteil. La Pla des Oliviers is a unit housing people with a variety of learning difficulties enabling them to be purposeful members of society enjoying as much independence as possible whilst providing them with the support they need. It is part of the Val de Sournia association, established in 1981 to provide support for those with a variety of needs which mean that they are unable to do paid work.
Sometimes I see a mountain and I want to climb it, I don’t know why, it's like a voice in my head that says, 'it would be good to climb that,’ and my heart begins to stir. My first encounter with le Canigou was on holiday in 2015.
As Jenny Graham whizzes round the World in her record attempt, inspiring us all to look differently at life’s challenges and adventures, I thought it would be interesting to reflect a little on goals and challenges.