Beat Your Training Fears
Face your training demons and emerge a relaxed and confident runner. – By Bob Cooper
The Fear: Falling behind
The Fix: Close the gap quickly
At some point, every runner gets dropped, whether it’s on a long, hard run or in the heat of track repeats. Stiffness or fatigue from a recent workout is a legitimate reason for not keeping up; so is running with a crowd that’s too quick. So allow more recovery in the future, or pick a slower group next time and accept that it may take a while to get up to speed to run with the cheetahs. On the other hand, you might just be having an off day.
Sometimes though, there are no excuses. “If you think you’re in the same shape as your running group, and they start pulling away, close the gap before it gets too large,” says Lowell Ladd, a running coach and 2:22 marathoner. “Better yet, refuse to fall behind by more than three strides, because there’s a psychological benefit to staying close. That’s why packs form at races – because it’s mentally easier to share the workload of hitting a pace.” Plus you’ll still be in reach to grab their shorts if things go really pear-shaped.
Think positive: “Second place is not a defeat. It is a stimulation to get better” – Carlos Lopes, Olympic marathon gold medallist
The fear: Not hitting time goals
The Fix: Tweak your targets
“Missing goal times is usually the result of a bad day or overly ambitious targets,” says Luke Humphrey, head coach of Hansons’ Coaching Services and a rather speedy 2:14 marathoner himself. “You can’t do much about bad days, and it’s OK to completely miss once in a while. But there are a couple of ways to adjust targets if they’re too ambitious.” Slowly increase the intensity over weeks until you hit your faster goal time. If you lack the confidence to hit a certain pace, Humphrey suggests at first reducing the repeat distance – by starting with 400m repeats at goal pace, say, instead of 800m – to remove the intimidation factor. “It’s better to make mistakes in training and learn from them than to make them on race day,” he says.
Think positive: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill
The Fear: The Heat
The Fix: Start slow, start hydrating
Not a major concern as we skate through an icy British winter, but one that’ll rear its sweaty head again when our nearest star gets back in the zone. And thankfully pre-dawn runs aren’t your only defence: “Like managing your pace, managing in the heat is a pay-as-you-go process,” says Olympic marathoner Keith Brantly, who now coaches in the sweltering heat of Florida. “A quick early pace may not give your body enough time to start sweating, which carries heat away through evaporation, so start slow. Avoid sudden accelerations, which can push your core temperature over the top. In the heat it’s already close to its functional maximum.” Because speedwork is full of sudden accelerations, try to save this session for a cool time of day.
“You lose up to two litres of fluid per hour when you run hard in the heat,” says Brantly, adding that you’re losing fluids even if you don’t appear to be sweating – which can happen when it’s hot and dry. He suggests downing about 500ml of water or sports drink every 20 minutes on hot days.
Think positive: “When you’re dying of thirst, it’s too late to think about digging a well” – Japanese proverb
The Fear: Resistance from Family
The Fix: Compromise
If you can’t persuade them to join you, take the time to explain why running is important to you. “Tell them how it adds value to your life by releasing stress, improving your health and anything else,” says Dr David Smoot, family psychologist and marathoner. “And try to find ways to run without taking time away from them.” Sometimes a constructive conversation helps. “Figure out what you can do together,” says Smoot. “Developing a ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ mentality is an important trait for couples to nurture.” You’re a good role model for your kids, but don’t be selfish about your running. “If you miss your son’s soccer game for a workout,” says Smoot, “you’re an absent parent no matter how far or fast you run.”
Think positive: “Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act is founded on compromise and barter” – Edmund Burke, Irish statesman and author
The Fear: Needing a ‘Pitstop’
The Fix: Follow a fuel plan
Getting caught short on the long run is a common and deep-seated fear. But going for foods and drinks that don’t race through your digestive system quicker than Usain Bolt will save you from your own bolt for the bushes. “Try any new food or drink before an everyday run, not a long run or a race, when a pitstop would be difficult and embarrassing,” says exercise physiologist and nutritionist Dr Laura Stewart. Also, don’t eat too much the night before, and avoid new, spicy, dairy, high-fibre foods and alcohol. On race or long-run mornings, eat three hours before running and go easy on caffeine and high-fibre foods.
Think positive: “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer” – George Patton, World War II general
The Fear: The Unknown
The Fix: Make a new plan, Stan
You can overcome whatever your fear may be with an all-purpose approach recommended by Dahlkoetter. “The best way to break through any fear is to take action,” she says. “Decide on a plan that addresses the fear and then follow it, starting with a small achievable first step and proceeding until you’ve succeeded.” Before setting the wheels in motion, however, set aside time to mentally grease them. “Take a few minutes to breathe deeply, relax your body and replace negative thoughts and images related to the fear with positive thoughts and images in which you confidently conquer it. Tell yourself what you want, not what you don’t want. Picture yourself doing whatever is needed, one step at a time, in the situation that you fear. And focus only on what you can do. By confidently executing the plan in your head, you’ll be better able to follow it later.”
Think positive: “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear” – Henry David Thoreau, author