Envision Yourself to Success

Over half way into my marathon training now and things are getting serious! After unwillingly taking a break from running for a week and just sticking to strengthening workouts, my knees have felt a lot more comfortable and I do not find long runs as daunting. I also invested in some knee supports which I know to be careful with and not rely on them but as the marathon is getting closer I am trying anything to ensure I do not get a serious injury at such an important time.    

So the running overall is back on track and I am feeling my confidence for the marathon is much higher than it was before. After a few weeks of slow runs, I finally had a week of runs which felt great, my legs were on form and the knees did not moan. I have been enjoying a few event runs while training because it is a nice change to the normal runs and of course the medals and t-shirts are always a bonus! My most recent one was the Penmaenmawr Big Rock run where I took part in the 10k and the 5k colour fun run. The 5k was the perfect warm down and so much fun! The day overall left a really nice memory and made me appreciate all the people I have around me also taking part in this marathon journey. Here are some photos from these past couple of weeks, been some amazing runs!

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After the colour run! Photo by Isobel Trimble
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Beautiful run! Photo by Nicole Brizell
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Medals! Photo by Nicole Brizell
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Run to the hills! Photo by Isobel Trimble
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They keep me going! Photo by Isobel Trimble
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Run to the hills! Photo by Nicole Brizell

So as the marathon date looms closer, here are some mental preparation strategies I have been focusing on to pick myself up and keep my running head on.

Mental Imagery

Mental imagery is a great way to mentally prepare yourself either for a race or even just a training run. It can even be used while on a run, for example I find that when I am struggling, I will visualise a time when I had a really good run and I had other people there to motivate me and I find it not only distracts me from the current pain but pushes me to carry on. So, for example Wayne Rooney was known for asking the clubs kit man what the teams kit was going to look like the next day and the purpose of this was to enhance the accuracy of his psychological preparation. He stated that he would visualise himself doing well in a game and to put himself in the moment properly he needed to know what he was wearing so the vision was more detailed and authentic. I have started doing this myself, more so for races, planning my outfit for a run and then before going to sleep imagine a run going well and there is something about the accuracy of the outfit and place that helps with a positive mindset on the race day. It’s a good way of getting your body used to performing under pressure. Sports psychologist Dr Steve Bull explains that everything down to the sound, sight and smell is important when using imagery. Preparing mentally is just as important as physically preparing yourself, it can improve confidence, focus, clarity and speed of thought. The more vivid the mental image is the more effectively the brain will prime the muscles ready to complete the image that has been produced. Sounds all too good to be true I know but not only have I experienced it myself but science even suggests this works. It was found that visual rehearsal triggers neural firings in the muscles and creates a mental blueprint that can help with future performances.

Self-talk

Another one of my favourite strategies that I have found to work for me in positive self-talk. This can be related to anything in life not just exercise, I use it often when in work and doing university work. When it comes to my running, it usually involves me shouting in my mind that I can do this or not long to go! Things as simple as this can work for positive self-talk. People use self-talk in everyday life without even realising it however this is where I find I can give myself negative self-talk without even realising it. More so when I am having a bad training run I will tell myself I cannot do anymore or I may as well give up. Telling myself this makes the run a lot worse and often when I get to that stage I just want to stop running. There is a way to develop a positive self-talk dialogue that will naturally occur when you run into a problem and it just takes practice. It starts with having a good mantra, mine is as simple as “you can do this” which I usually repeat over and over. Once this becomes the automatic phrase to go to when the going gets hard, you can then start expanding positive phrases for yourself. Again, for me, hills are the devil and unfortunately with where I live they are everywhere. Which also means I have pretty much ran up and down most them so when I’m having a bad day and come across one, instead of giving myself a break and walking, I tell myself “you know it’s doable, you’ve done it before”. Going back to visual image, using these positive phrases with an image of yourself doing that certain hill well, it creates a positive message of belief to yourself which is honestly the most powerful combination you can have. 

I recently read in Runners World about a study done by Samuel Marcora which looks at the effects of self-talk on endurance performances. In short, volunteers did a cycling test to exhaustion, half of the group then got a two-week self-talk intervention before doing the test again. The group that got the self-talk intervention improved and managed to last 18% longer than the first time. They found that they could convince themselves that they could last long and that it felt easier as it went on. The self-talk they used was like what I mentioned that I use before, statements such as “push through this” and “feeling good”. They found however planning what your motivational statements will be beforehand benefit while exercise otherwise you are more likely to slip into negative self-talk. 

Overall these few weeks have been more about training myself mentally and telling myself I can do this! Lets see what the next few weeks before the marathon brings.

The Power of Grit

Weeks 7/8

These past couple of weeks have been a difficult one in regards to my training since the half marathon. My knees since the Anglesey Half Marathon have still not fully recovered even with following my runs with a foam roller and stretches. My new goal for the next month is to build up on my strength as I can see now why it is so important to have strong muscles to be able to keep up with the amount of running I am doing.  My main focus is to build the muscles in my quads as they control the movement of the kneecap and hip muscles as they stop the knee from dropping inwards. Many online articles have some great exercises to follow for it but I have personally been using Runners World and 220 Triathlon.

I am finding my motivation for the runs has slowed down mainly because of the pains I have been faced with and I keep not wanting it to push me down but when even a small 3 mile run feels hard on my legs compared to two weeks ago when I would be happy to run 10 miles and then work a shift the same night, it does make you feel as though you’re either moving backwards or not at all. However, this just showed me I have to review my training plan and work out where I may have gone wrong.

Success & Grit 

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Credit: The Real Truth About Success

On a similar topic, friends and family have approached me to tell me how well I am doing and how they wish they could achieve the same. Not to say I am not proud of myself on how far I have come so far however it leads me to the picture above which is titled The Iceberg Illusion. Related to my own experience when I see this picture it makes me think of when people see me posting my pictures of races I have done where I have beat personal bests or in general training photos with the glorious sunny weather with some of my fellow classmates.However they do not see the harder times, the times my alarm goes at 6am for a run after working a night shift and I lie there debating whether its all worth it. The times I find even the shortest of runs a struggle and beat myself up for it the rest of the day. The social events given up so that I can get a good nights sleep and a clear head for another run.Yes, you could share all these things but who wants to see that? Better in thinking that someone is naturally talented in that way.

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible.”

Johannes Haushofer

Leading on from this, working hard for what you want is also known as having grit. Very strongly researched by Angela Duckworth, she focused her work on grit and self-control. Grit means to have a strong interest and put a lot of effort towards a very long-term goal and self-control is the ability to subdue our impulses to achieve a long-term goal. Research was found that on average people who are more “gritty” had more self control however the link between these two is not perfect. You can have people who had no self-control but were very gritty whereas others showed little grit but high self-control.

My long-term goal is to finish the Liverpool Marathon and I would say I am personally passionate about it because it is something I have always said I have wanted to do and I want to show myself I can work hard for something when I want it enough. Showing I have grit is also by overcoming any setbacks that come my way which for instance right now is aches and pains. The main way I can overcome these is by not giving up completely and reviewing my training plan to work around my injuries and building myself back up. I took the grit scale test and came back with 3.20 which I am rather happy with! Having grit is not just important for people doing sports but can be used in any aspect in life in order to become successful.

What I aim to work on next… 

Cadence

This means the number of steps per minute while running. Researcher & coach Jack Daniels found that 180 or so is the best cadence to aim for while running as it minimizing over-striding, has less impact on the legs and maintains forward momentum.  So after reading this Runners World article on improving cadence, I am now following the steps to finding out what my current cadence is and training myself to stick to one that is right for me and hopefully notice some differences in my running form which could lower the risk of making knees and legs any worse.

Improvements

So considering I thought this blog was going to be completely on what was going wrong at the moment, I have actually got some small improvements that have been noted. I never really had a problem with my heart rate being too high however it is motivating to watch as my resting heart rate slowly goes down the fitter I become and also very interesting! Below is a screenshot from my Fitbit app which shows my resting heart rate in the last month.

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Overall I think these couple of weeks have been a good learning point for me. This is my first time ever training for  a marathon, of course I wont get it perfect the first time, of course I am going get bumps in the road but it’s helping me learn more about my body and mental determination in ways I have not before.

I hope you enjoyed reading and will carry on following me through my journey!