Train Your Mind

Each week seems to pass with a report of another athlete banned for doping. Quite often these athletes come from counties with poverty and minimal infrastructure. However recent journalist investigations validate the sceptics that in other countries, top level endurance sports management is more like an organized mafia crime unit with talented athletes, secret financial transactions, shadow labs, replacement samples, corporations with expansive influence and financial interests in ridiculously fast athletic performances. The victims will always be the fans and the doped athletes that are soon forgotten as there are always more to take their place. But the main victims are those who have been robbed of medals, prize money, sponsorship, and fame in their country.

However, there has been a benefit. All the cheating has driven coaches to come up with smarter training methods that enables their clean athletes to push themselves further and faster. During the early 2000s, a 5000m time of 12m50s become a standard winning time in major international races. During that time the world record was also lowered to 12m37. It was NZs Dick Quax who in 1977 held that record at 13m12s. Dick would have known the miles that he ran and the work he did to achieve his record. To therefore run nearly 3s faster a lap must have felt like a feat similar to consecutively climbing 3 Everests.

The result of these fast times has been that it has forced clean athletes to accept that they needed to train differently to run faster and be successful. Therefore we now see more clean athletes run 5000m under 13 minutes. For those who have ever run a fast 5000m, improving 1s per lap seems a little more achievable with time and improved training. Being reasonably successful running 140-160 km per week means that increasing to 170-190km, to get that extra lift, seems reasonable and achievable. Furthermore, optimising recovery, diet, sleep, muscle maintenance and rehab have all helped athletes improve.

While we seem to have optimised training methods and a lot of the variables around training, human performances are probably still below what could be possible. The biggest variable affecting performance in an athlete isn’t recent training, sleep schedule or what they ate yesterday for lunch but has more to do with the mental state that he is in, what he believes to be possible and how he can train his mind to accept that it can get the body to perform even better.

I often get athletes approach me for coaching with their main reason being that their times have not improved over the last 2-3 years. Some have seemingly gone backwards, even though they are still young. Everyone improves at different rates but with the right training, you can still improve. Age will eventually catch up and slow you down. This means you will not run as fast as a 45-year-old as you once did as a 25-year-old. However up to age 30 you should still get gains. The first step is to accept and believe that you will have to run longer and faster in training than before.

Improved racing times come from training and confidence in your preparation and the progress you have made over the last few weeks. Your training times should be your best indicator. Practice visualisation and see yourself accomplishing your goals. If you hit a rough patch while training or racing use a mantra or focus on key areas. What can you do with your arms? Is there an uphill or downhill coming where you can change your stride? If it is along the flat, can you just change to a shorter, quicker stride? Is there a landmark that you can concentrate on and work harder towards? Is there a person just ahead that you can focus on and try to catch? Stay focused, remain relentlessly positive and concentrate on the things you can control. That means you will not be rattled by the things you can’t.

Lastly have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Training comprises three components: extension (doing more or longer reps), intensity (the speed at which you run) and recovery (that is when you improve). Each week consolidate by changing one or more of the components. When you have increased your training load and improved, have confidence that you can do the same thing when you leave the starting line. We have yet to see what future mindfulness techniques can really help you achieve but for now using the basics above should help.