Training for an event, whether this be a 10k, half marathon, marathon or triathlon can be a real rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. One training session can leave you feeling sky high, whilst another may bring you crashing down. Progress and setbacks often go hand in hand, and the longer the training block more of a roller coaster it is, as the long lead time statistically gives a wider window of opportunity for something to go wrong. Setbacks are a natural part of the process, and its how you deal with them that directly influences your success on race day.
I’ve hit setbacks during every single marathon training cycle, whether it be illness, injury, burnout, trips and slips or trying to balance training with life beyond running. It is sometimes difficult to deal with, but having a coping strategy certainly helps give you focus and equips you for facing the challenges a big block of training may throw at you. Whilst a lot of these tips are linked to my experience chasing the big 26.2, any training block which takes you out of your comfort zone offers challenges (but opportunities too). Whether you’re riding a training block rollercoaster or want to prepare yourself for the journey ahead, read on for my top strategies for dealing with the highs and lows of training for an event.
Celebrate the little wins: the roller coaster of any training block has ups and downs. We tend to focus on the downs without giving the space to the little wins which deserve celebrating. Nothing is too small, every positive step in the right direction adds up. Record the positives in a training journal, notebook or even on your phone and they’ll be there as a source of inspiration and comfort when times get tough in your training.
Speak kindly to yourself: think about what you would say to one of your friends going through the same thing, you wouldn’t let them just focus on the negatives so don’t put yourself through that. Instead focus on giving yourself a break, thinking about the positives from your training and positive actions you’re in control of rather than letting negative thoughts take hold. THINK POSITIVE!
Remember life happens: you have a training plan, but you have a life too. There are often more important things than your training (shock horror did I dare say that?!) It’s easy to be all consumed by your training plan, feel heavily impacted by what others are doing around you or panicking about how many weeks there are before your event. But remember there’s life beyond this. It’s ok to be firm about your goals but flexible with your methods. Swap sessions around if you need to to fit your life, forget the planxiety and just trust the process. Missed a long run? Don’t start playing catch up as that’s when injury and overtraining/burnout can happen, instead make a plan within a plan and take action. Time spent worrying about your training plan, without taking any action is time and energy better spent elsewhere.
So you had a rubbish run? So what? Don’t dwell! There is nothing you can do about it. Ask yourself what made that run/ session feel difficult and what you think contributed to that- there’s likely a very logical explanation e.g. fatigue, hunger, tiredness, weather or just not mentally feeling it. These sessions happen to everyone in every training block. For me it’s always my first 18 mile run of a marathon training cycle. Every bad session is sent to test you. It’s part and parcel of the training- you train your mind as much as your body and a ‘bad’ session does just that. See it as a training session for your mental resilience, learn from it and most importantly move forward in a positive way.
Don’t compare yourself to others: we all say this and yet most of us still do this (myself included!) Comparison is well and truly the thief of joy. There will always be someone doing more, doing different sessions to you, putting a different number of hours in, running at a different pace, but remember their goals are not your goals and on the flip side your goals are not their goals. Everyone has their strengths/weakness, different things they want to work on, different aspirations and different hours they can dedicate to training during the week. Just because you’re training for the same event doesn’t mean you bring the same competencies or background to your training and you know what you might not have even started your training at the same time. Don’t make assumptions based on what you see and don’t let it drive you to doubting all your efforts.
Dealing with injury: This can be tough, very tough in fact, especially if you’re faced with a big injury or something that jeopardises your whole training plan. However, a positive mindset can do wonders for your body. If you’re resting up with niggles, injuries or illness focus on how the time is allowing your body to heal. Whilst rest is often far from what you want to be doing in the lead up to your big event, focus on the fact that if you’re taking a week or two out of your training plan this will allow you to come back stronger and refreshed. A week out is always better than a month out, or a year out. If you’re forced to defer a race, remember a deferral isn’t a drop out, it’s a chance to come back at a later stage when your body is 100% ready to achieve its best potential. I use injury time to assess why i’m injured. Most of the time it is something I can pinpoint e.g. I trained too hard on this week, or didn’t stretch enough after that run or something beyond my control happened. I try my best to learn from each niggle and use this new knowledge as a springboard to further developing my running. In essence, take whatever small positives you can find and focus on positive actions, for positive results.
Self care is essential: Mental and physical burnout is common when training and around the mid point of my marathon training cycle I start to focus on how far I have to go rather than how far I’ve actually come, which simply isn’t helpful and has led me to mental training burnout. Be kind to yourself, and focus on the little things you can do to make the experience enjoyable
Focus on your end goal: whatever your end goal is use that to spur you through the rocky patches of your training. Visualise how you’re going to feel at the finish, how you want to feel during the event and what you’re going to do on the morning of the event. I always finish my long runs in the same place- and I pretend this is my finish line, I visualise how I want to feel on race day as I run towards that finish and how it will feel if I achieve my goals. I find this helps me focus on positive energy even at the end of a rubbish session. It’s a sneaky way to replicate that finish line feeling and post run high!
GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY
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