Doubting

I’m not sure how a talking toilet (yep it really does exist) makes a train journey more enjoyable, but Virgin trains to the North West seem to think it makes my customer ‘experience’ that much better. Oh how I laughed as said ‘toilet’ regaled me with the amusing story about how it had previously worked in public toilets and that ‘it’ knew what to ‘expect’ from the job description when it changed roles.

My mood, already a little dark, from the tiredness of the latest marathon training, darkened further as I received advice about not flushing wipes, or my goldfish, whilst on the train – whether in the station or not. Though I’m pretty sure such advice does fall on deaf ears, as having stood on the platform at a number of UK train stations over the years, it seems that whilst it works for fish of gold, for brown ones, no such limits apply.

This stage of marathon training is marked by particular bouts of tiredness as we reach the longest distances crucial for the ‘time on your feet’ training that prepares you best for the coming event. It also can be about the volume of running involved.

I’m not a fan (just my view -I’m no sports scientist) of aiming to achieve ever greater total distance each week. In my view, much of it I see being written about on social media just seems to be a ‘race’ to pitch how much more monthly miles have been achieved rather than the quality and qualitative ‘value’ of the training runs achieved.

In the weeks of the first part of the new year, it’s been great to see the positive vibes off people as they achieve their greatest distance in training runs, but in a controlled way. The camaraderie that comes from this is one of the best things about the running club I’m a member of (the first rule of running club must be to always celebrate everyone’s performance – everyone is a ‘marathon’ for somebody).

I can’t say these positive vibes will always be there but a controlled increase has over the seven years I’ve been doing this madness with my running club (with of course the rolling, stretching, and massage) has shown a greater chance of success than just blindly increasing mileage. So it is important to remember that you are doing a training run to have a great race, not doing a training run to have a great training run every time.

My own modest improvements in pace have come from running less times a week (most weeks I run twice a week, but push myself hard) and replacing runs with Crossfit, yoga and core work. I’m a big believer in your training working around your life. We’re not professional runners so have to work, see our loved ones, and do some other stuff. Just to retain some sanity.

My cod science on this is that the more you try to squeeze the running in, the more you come to resent it when it gets in the way of stuff. This can mean you get more stressed about the ‘running’ making it less enjoyable and a chore. And (cod science warning) I’m not sure that such feelings and/or state of mind help keeping fit, injury free, and healthy either.

Yes this training lark is tough, but keeping it as pleasurable and social as possible will make it a little more bearable.

However, there are alternative views. My long run colleague Narendra, identifies:

I think consistency is the key. The mileage matters too. The more you do, the faster your time will be, assuming you do one long run, one hard run and lots of easy runs (junk miles). The willpower to fit in the mileage with your ‘life’ is the challenge.

Running to work would be the easiest way of making the best of your time. I am going to find ways of doing this. If you are born with a slow engine like me, and take to running after your best before date (again like me), there is only so much you can do.

I spoke to a 2:27-marathoner today. He is not training for any marathons, but runs to and from work every day and does 70miles a week, because running is like brushing teeth for him, a part of everyday life. For us mortals, we haven’t got to that stage yet. I am going to do 80km a week to see what I can achieve. Hopefully, we all can get to where we want to, but the paths may be different.

Whilst the Head Running Coach, Sarra, at my running club has another useful viewpoint:

I don’t agree with focusing on mileage/ volume. For sub 3hour marathon runners, they will have a more natural ability/ genetics to cope with this kind of volume. They will also have generally been runners for a while. Runners 3:30 and slower, who start later in life, or at least have not been running consistently since early teens, need a very different model. They need a careful balance of steady increase (hence why we start October/ November, unlike the January shorter plans- usually 16/18 weeks). They also need more recovery days and recovery runs. They need careful strength training to balance out any imbalances and weaknesses. They need very regular mobility and sports massages and flexibility work.

The plans we have given to sub 3hour runners are completely different from post 3:30 plan. We have seen hundreds of runners get injured from building the distance too quickly/ starting late, running too much at the wrong race pace and trying to add too many miles per week for the sake of it and not correcting their imbalances.

Notwithstanding the quantity v quality debate, this period of training – still far enough from the big day – is also wracked with another common feeling, a sense of foreboding that comes in great wodges (is that even a word?). Yep, great big wodges of doubt.

I’m pretty sure this is there for a majority of those training for their long races at this stage of their preparation  – even the most ‘experienced’ marathoners. In particular, it tends to coincide with those runs that are a challenge because not only are you fighting the usual head nonsense questioning your general abilities as a runner, but you’re also fighting the doubt about how you will actually finish the damn race.

Commonly, this is around the internal conversations about “how am I going to keep going right to the end of the race”, and “how will I do that at the pace I need to run to reach my finishing objective/time?”  You say to yourself, “I struggled to do that over this shorter than target distance, so how do I push on to the full target distance?”

This is completely normal, of course you are concerned about it, and it is a key part of the challenge that you are putting yourself through. Come race day you will experience exactly these feelings of doubt. If there was no doubt, the challenge wouldn’t be there, and I suspect Gwen Stefani wouldn’t have a career either.

Doubt will probably come up whilst travelling to the start, in the start pen, waiting for the gun to go, and at a variety of points during the race. The key to overcoming it is how you respond and the strategies you develop to overcome it. The first response is to accept it is there, but also respond to it through your engagement in your training. Completing that next training run helps you to push through, but it is also important to reflect on what might be causing the doubt to bubble up.

Is it niggles, fear of an old injury returning, having done enough training, having done too much training, being too tired, fearing you’ve lost your mojo, wondering if you ever had a mojo in the first place, each run has always been hard, or not hard enough?

In my experience, it is generally that the doubt does not come from a fully detailed consideration of what you have achieved so far, running further than you have done before (no wonder you’re tired, Einstein), quicker, in a different way, or even after some time out for whatever reason. It isn’t focussed on the full evidence of what you’ve done up to now. To overcome it, the key is to try to focus on an alternative positive scenario of the situations above, and identify the achievements in there, focus on something that inspires you about what you’ve done so far. For instance, you never thought you’d run that far, your time/pace has improved, you’ve just got out there and bloody done it.

Running mantras can also help by blocking out the doubt and associated negative thoughts and the training runs are a good way of practising these. The mantras are words/phrases that you repeat to yourself and/or out loud that help push you on, ‘run strong’ is one I’ve used in the past, the key is taking something that works for you. There’s some useful material including a tool to create your own running mantra that can be found if you follow this link:

https://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/the-magic-of-running-mantras .

Furthermore a more recent article how focusing on the use of the word ‘You’ can help be making your own mantra sound as though it’s someone else encouraging you, rather than you just rallying yourself – thus on hills “You got this”; or generally “You’re smashing it”. The key is again to find something you can use and visualise in your training runs to test and fine tune what works for you.

Then again maybe I’m wrong on this, and perhaps a ‘flash sale’ is a great way to advertise a tanning salon, and Keanu Reeves really deserves an Oscar for his dirty smock-led performance in 47 Ronin.

The key as I’ve tried to manage my long runs, is to celebrate your achievements so far, accept that they are part of the journey, expect the doubt to return, but learn that there are ways you can address it and become stronger from your response to it. It’ll be there come race day, but you’ll be better prepared for it, and having battled through it in training, you’ll have some strategies for dealing with it, to flush it away, leaving it lying on the track, whether you’re stationary or not.

Just don’t doubt it…….

I’m due to run my 9th Marathon this year, taking on a new challenge with the Manchester Marathon on Sunday 8th April 2018, just over 8 weeks away.

I’m running for the Place2Be and if you’ve found the blog useful I would like to ask you to sponsor me by clicking the link below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SimonTanner1

The Place2Be works across England, Scotland, and Wales to provide a range of vitally important mental health and wellbeing support to children in school, they’ve also been providing support to children and their families caught up in the Grenfell Disaster.

About Simon Tanner

Nine time marathon runner, having run Brighton x6, London x2, and Manchester x1, finally got a London ballot place after 7 consecutive attempts. I try to write about things I'm going through / have gone through in training to help others attain their running goals, whatever the distance.
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