I became a Maths teachers about 2 years ago now and never thought that numbers would play such a big part in my marathon training. The obvious link between maths and endurance training is the 40km or 26miles of the race itself. Following on from that is the speed that you run at, the average pace that you maintain during the race, the split times and the time taken to complete the race. Lots of number work!
However, I also feel that running the marathon is the closest that I will be to seeing any form of activity in the same way as a professional athlete. I am having to seriously plan my training including recovery (see my previous post here.) Think seriously about nutrition and hydration and have even started to look at the psychology of a long distance runner. I know a lot more qualified people than me have already produced a lot of material on this subject, but this is my perspective having taught Sport Psychology as part of the A2 Physical Education course for 7 years and now, finally, putting what I know into practice. I think it was Linford Christie that said that “most” 100m athletes are physically the same but it was their psychological makeup that made the difference. As the distance of the race increases, I think, that Sport Psychology plays even more of a part for the arm chair athletes right the way through to the Mo Farrah’s of the world. In this post I will be looking at how both of these aspects have been affecting me during my training this month.
To be honest, I have always used a lot of Maths whilst running. One of the reasons is to disassociate myself from the running and the pain and discomfort. Disassociation is when you try to take your mind off of the task at hand ie running by thinking about other things. Opinions are mixed on this as an efficient psychological method to improve running efficiency, on the one hand it can help with that feeling of speeding up time. You start thinking about something else, I often try to work out my average time or predicted finished time, and before you know it half of the run is over! The arguments against using dissociation mainly comes from professional athletes. The belief is that by dissociating yourself from the running you lose track of how you body is coping with the activity. As a professional athlete this could mean you miss the vital cue from your body during a training session that is supposed to tell you to slow down before you injure yourself.
During my last training session before the Half Marathon I ran last October, I totally psyched myself out. I ended up having to walk home after about 3km. I was not in a good place and to find out how that ended up please click here. But what it did teach me was how important it is during endurance training and racing to be totally in the “Zone”. Most people have heard about this Zone – where they feel great and know that they can accomplish anything. What they have actually managed to find is the area between the upper and lower levels of arousal within which optimal performance takes place. During that final training run last October I was definitely not in the Zone. I actually think I was over aroused, meaning I was so focused on the run and so hyped up for it, I probably burnt a lot of nervous energy up leaving me less for the run. Once I gave up I still had 2 choices, I could have calmed myself down back to a point that my arousal decreased and thus my performance could start to increase again or (the choice I made!) I allowed myself to continue to get further aroused meaning I had no chance of starting to run again. This is a perfect example of the Catastrophe theory which depicts the relationship between performance and arousal and is a development of the much more well known inverted U theory. I did go on to finish the Half Marathon in a very good time (for me!) of 1 hour 55 min and during that race I did feel good and was definitely in my “Zone”!
Combining these two topics of Numbers and Psychology I found myself at a strange crossroads about 3 weeks ago. I have always measured my runs in Km. I don’t really know why, all of my previous races have been 10 Km so maybe my training just reflected that, but it was not a conscious decision. I have always enjoyed seeing the distance fly by and by using Km on my measuring device this really used to motivate me! However, as the distance I have had to train at have increased using Km has started to have a negative affect on me. Knowing that I have to run 40 Km seems like a very steep hill. Psychologically, 26 miles seems less than 40 Km so at that crucial crossroads 3 weeks ago I made the switch over to Miles. This has had a positive psychological affect on me and my “mood” during my training runs has improved. Runs do seem longer or rather they seem longer to complete but when I convert my distance whilst running (disassociation) I am still managing to run at about 10 Km per hour. The other change that I have made to my training recently, again as a result of the increasing distances, is that I am now running 3.3 mile laps rather than long runs out and then back again. The distances involved were really stating to psych me out and I have found that by doing laps I can maintain a much more positive state of mind. The only trouble is, I have now many more opportunities to bail out of the run as unfortunately my lap goes straight past my house!
My final foray into the world of Sports Psychology is to notice the difference between the need to achieve attitude of the professional athlete and the need to avoid failure attitude of the arm chair athlete. This NAch (need to achieve) and NAF (need to avoid failure) demonstrates the stark difference in attitudes that 10,000 hours of training provides. At this moment in time, I will very happy to cross the finish line full stop, especially as I am running for a fantastic charity Julia’s House so I am very much in the NAF category! On that note, if you would like to support Julia’s House and sponsor me please find the link to my online sponsorship form here.
There are obviously many other strands of Sport Psychology that has an impact on performance but at the moment these are the main ones that I feel I am having to deal with. The effect of an audience on performance can only really be seen during the run itself and confidence in ones ability will have a knock on effect on many other aspects. Maybe, in my post run evaluation I will be able to comment on how these factors affected my performance.
As always if you have any questions (or corrections!!!) please leave a comment below.
If you are currently training for a marathon yourself or know someone that is, please click here to send out a tweet linking to this post (thanks to @teachertoolkit for this coding advice!!)