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Mental preparation for an endurance event

by Editor
Friday 18th July 2014

Jack Atkinson, Threshold Sports Ambassador gives his top tips

Jack Atkinson, Threshold Sports Ambassador gives his top tips

Jack Atkinson enjoying some sun in the alps and enduring more testing conditions in Scotland

Mental preparation should be a big part of any sportsman’s arsenal but for endurance athletes being mentally strong is key. When you’re pushing into the 10th  hour, 20th or even the next day of a race, you need to believe in yourself and you need to be able to conquer any sense of doubt.

It’s all well and good saying how important mental strength is, but how do you actually prepare for it? Unfortunately there isn’t a one fits all solution. However I want to share what works for me, and hopefully that can give you some ideas to try for yourself.

Where to start? List your goals (I love a good list). Now if you’re anything like me this will be a spectacularly long list. Start prioritising goals into short term and long term and use the short term aims to work towards your long term ones. This will give you targets and something to aim and aspire towards. Hunger for a goal will take you a long way!

Now for training and the tough part. Ever since I heard the quote “train hard, race easy” I was hooked on the idea. So I need to go out and run as far as I can as fast as I can right? Wrong. Push your training yes but be careful of over-training. What I have learnt from numerous times of over-training (I get carried away easily) is that pushing yourself really hard in training is great BUT make sure you schedule more rest in afterwards.

A routine is great and a fantastic way to stick to your goals because it becomes normal. What happens when you shake up your routine? It’s tough. Shake up your routine every now and then to trick your body and your mind. It’s the little things like this that make all the difference.

Visualizing yourself finishing and racing well will help put you in a positive frame of mind. Picture yourself at the finish line and how incredible it will feel knowing how all that hard work, eating right and training has paid off. Not only will this increase confidence but also if you do it as you run it’s a great way of distracting yourself

My favourite tip is to do a truly awful workout one week before a race. Now this needs to be a workout you are going to hate every minute of and something that really messes with your head. It could be something as seemingly easy as 100 burpees as fast as you can (trust me, it’s a LOT worse than it sounds) to a brutal combo of squat thrusts and hill sprints. The idea behind this is to have something to look back on during the low moments of a race and think how even though this feels bad right now, it was a whole lot better than those damn burpees!

Over the past few months I’ve been in training for the Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones and I will be running the 2-day event. I’ve never done a multi-day event before and so I’ve had to come up with some new ideas to (you’ve guessed it) trick my mind! If you’ve ran a marathon you would understandably expect to feel pretty tired and pretty achy the next day – time for a well earned rest day right? Not with the Race to the Stones! I’ll have run a marathon and a bit (30miles) and then have to do the same again the next day! So I’ve had to come up with some ideas to see how I can combat this and make sure I’m race ready and raring to go, even on day two.

I always train in the mornings when I can, as when I don’t, I tend to think about training and what I’m going to do (some might say I’m slightly obsessed). So as mentioned earlier I shook up my routine. I would train late in the evening and then again the following morning. I wouldn’t do this all the time but when I did I would make sure it was tough, really tough. For example in the evening I might do squats and deadlifts to fatigue my legs and then go for a fast 10-20km run. This is taxing though and I would schedule a rest day after this or at the most I would do some light active recovery e.g. swimming.

My last mental preparation tip is hopefully an obvious one, but it’s all too easy to get caught out. Plan everything for the race; kit, how to get to the race, race nutrition etc. Sorting all of the admin early means no last minute worrying. If everything is sorted well in advance there will be less to worry about and sport shouldn’t be stressful!

So in short, my top tips are:

  • Set goals
  • Routine is the enemy
  • Picture yourself crossing the finish line and how epic it will feel
  • Remember those tough workouts to look back on in the low moments

You’ve trained hard, now race easy!

As I run the Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones I will be updating everyone with my progress on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so for an insight of what it’s like to run an ultra marathon.

Twitter - @RaceToTheStones


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