Ask the Experts: Marathon Mental Strength Q&A with Dr Victor Thompson

Morning all!

ASICS Target 26.2 psychologist Dr Victor Thompson will be online between 1pm and 2pm today to answer your questions about preparing mentally for your spring marathon. Whether you’re starting to get race nerves, worried about your race strategy or just looking for tips on how to master the distance, Victor’s here to help.

As well as being a specialist in sports psychology, Victor is a keen triathlete who has represented Great Britain and Ireland. In 2005 he raced for Ireland at the Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii and in 2010 and 2011 he finished 11th in his age-group at the European Triathlon Championships.

We're opening the discussion now so Victor will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm (rather than having to deal with too many questions all at once). That's enough from me - time to get posting!

Dominique

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Comments

  • I'm making my marathon debut at the VLM and have ignored all the sensible advice about not focussing on a time, and simply enjoying the day!

    I suspect it's too late now to undo my neurosis about pacing- what troubles me is that I suspect I'll get wound up about the crowds/ slower runners and waste lots of energy weaving and getting cross in the first few miles.

    Any wise words would be gratefully received- many thanks!

  • I'm a first time marathoner who has missed almost 5 weeks of training due to injury. Am still going to do the VLM, with a run-walk plan and absolutely no time ambitions, just the desire to finish. Understandably I'm worried about my lack of long runs and have no idea how to prepare for the later stages of the race.

    I've been reading about the inportance of positive thinking, and suggestions of creating a mental 'video' of me running well and crossing the finish line. Am other simple ways I can boost my confidence and quell my nerves?

    Thanks!

  • Hi Victor

    If there was only one piece of advice you could give what would it be and why?  I ask this because I know from past marathons that when you're really tired your brain goes to mush and it's really difficult to think straight. 

     Would welcome your advice - many many thanks.

  • I'm a first-time marathoner who's running the Edinburgh marathon.  I've done a 20 mile race as part of my training but am struggling to fit in long runs (15+) with work / family commitments.  Is it as effective to do several shorter runs (i.e. 10 miles)?
  • GladragsGladrags ✭✭✭

    Mine is a simple question - what are your tips for maintaining motivation when it starts to flag?

    Generally I am ok but I have had 2 bad races when my mind took matters into its own hands and I stopped running. Physically I could have run but mentally, the fact that conditions weren't quite right (temperature/crowds) led to this despair that could not be overcome.

    So how can I give myself a good talking to and motivate myself to keep going when it gets tough?

  • Hi Victor

    This is more a question about 'not racing' than racing. I was supposed to be running Brighton on Sunday but picked up an injury to my foot right at the start of my taper which is going to put me out of action for at least 6 weeks. I'm pretty gutted and feeling a bit down about it all as my training had gone really well. Any words of wisdom?

    Thanks Kylie
  • Hi Victor,

    I'm in a similar situation to Kylie above. Also picked up an injury to my right ankle 6 weeks ago and it's seriously affected my training since then. With London in a weeks time things do not look great. Am seeing a specialist this afternoon to try and get a definitive diagnosis, but fear the "do not run for xx weeks" line. Will be devasated if this is the case. How to deal with this? Have tried to learn to love swimming and cycling, but it's just not cricket, I mean, running!

    Thanks, Chris.

  • DLDL ✭✭✭
    Hello Victor - and thanks for taking the time to help

    Mine is a first timer's question really - having only trained to 20 miles the extra 6 loom quite large (and seem to be getting larger). Not helped by the fact that people say half the race is to 20 then it really begins. I know I need to treat the marathon with respect but that 'extra 6' is beginning to look harder and longer every time I think about it.

    I'm slightly worried that over thinking the whole thing is making me become ever more conservative in my aims. Half marathon and 20 mile races indicate I should be able to get a 4.40ish time - but in my head I'm now worrying and thinking I should aim for a 5 hour time so I don't blow everything. Any advice you can give to help me get those little voices in my head to be on my side for a change would be appreciated!

    Thanks
  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    Hi Victor,

    Can you recommend any mental strategies to help deal with the taper/on the day?

  • How to keep your motivation up in the long training runs? I'm at the toughest point now in preparation for Edinburgh marathon and some days it's tough with full time job, college and family life. It's the case of i want to but my brain telling me i'm tired...How to get going and keep going?
  • Hi Victor

    I would like your views on how best to get over a bad marathon.  I ran VLM last year, had an awful race, finishing almost an hour below my target time, despite training well.  It took me months before I could apply myself to run much more than a mile at a time.  I wasn't really injured afterwards, I just felt like there was a mental barrier to overcome because of the negative experience I had of the race.  How can I prevent significant post-marathon fall outs from happening again?

    Ivy Mike - I'm in the same position as you, I sprained my ankle 6 weeks ago.   It was devastating but I chose to pull out this year and defer my place.  It's not ideal, but I tried to turn it into a positive and thought about all the training I can do over the rest of the year to improve my fitness come the race next year. 

  • Similar to the above, I'd be interested in your thoughts specifically on calming nerves and getting more sleep.  I don't get this much now but I certainly used to and I imagine it's a common problem.  At what point should one take medication?

  • From Hilden Bro

    I'm making my marathon debut at the VLM and have ignored all the sensible advice about not focussing on a time, and simply enjoying the day!

    I suspect it's too late now to undo my neurosis about pacing- what troubles me is that I suspect I'll get wound up about the crowds/ slower runners and waste lots of energy weaving and getting cross in the first few miles.

    Any wise words would be gratefully received- many thanks!

    My reply:

    Thanks for this question. As it was posted first, I’ll answer this first, then will reply to more beteen 1-2PM.

    This is a common challenge – not getting caught up in the stress and excitement and melee at the start of the marathon.  Here’s your 3 point plan:

    1.       Accept that it will be busy and people will be in your way. That is part of the big marathon experience.

    2.       Decide to ride this section out, it will pass, don’t fight it (or other runners!), try to be calm and chilled (as possible)

    3.       Recognise that there is a temptation with all the adrenaline pumping to go off too hard, but if you do, there is a very high chance of crashing and burning – so hold back at first

    4.       Work out what will help you enjoy the day (do this this week, well before race day), as this is your stated goal

     Victor
  • Hi Victor,

    do you have any particularly visualisation techniques you can suggest?

    Thanks,

    Ed.

  • Hi there!

    I have completed my second marathon in September of last year. I was really looking forward to it. Achieved my PBS but not quite the set target. I loved it anyway as it was in my home town Berlin. Unfortunately ever since then I have hit a massive wall. Picking up every virus going and due to health my fitness level is at its worst. How can I pick myself up and regain confidence. I am not entirely sure where or when but I have completely lost my mojo. Many thanks. 

  • From Black and Tabby:

    I'm a first time marathoner who has missed almost 5 weeks of training due to injury. Am still going to do the VLM, with a run-walk plan and absolutely no time ambitions, just the desire to finish. Understandably I'm worried about my lack of long runs and have no idea how to prepare for the later stages of the race.

    I've been reading about the inportance of positive thinking, and suggestions of creating a mental 'video' of me running well and crossing the finish line. Am other simple ways I can boost my confidence and quell my nerves?

    Thanks!

    My reply:

    Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, many runners end up having a compromised build-up to the race with injury or life getting in the way. It is important that you first have a sensible plan of how you will ‘play’ the event: your pacing, your nutrition, your focus. If you feel shocking towards the end of the event and end-up walking, then there is little point in having a rehearsed image of you running fleet-footed, fast, gazelle or cheetah like. As, this will be too far away from your actual experience of shuffling towards the finish.

     Victor
  • My reply part 2 to Black and Tabby

     Instead, think about what will help you get through the tougher times, what will help you push, persevere, endure? Who inspires you? Why are you doing the event? When have you shown courage to yourself or others?

    Or, if it is a good choice to walk, how will you accept this, and then will you walk normally or at a fast pace?

    Imagine these scenarios, how you will feel, how you will react, what you will do, how things will work out fine for you.

    Oh, and nerves are normal, because it is an important day to you, you will face challenges and there is uncertainty. Expect nerves. They will build in the lead-up, then dissolve once the run starts.

     Victor
  • From Runbird:

    Hi Victor

    If there was only one piece of advice you could give what would it be and why?  I ask this because I know from past marathons that when you're really tired your brain goes to mush and it's really difficult to think straight. 

     Would welcome your advice - many many thanks.

    My reply:

    Wow, what a question! Okay, my ONE PIECE OF ADVICE IS: cultivate in training and use on marathon day a calm, helpful, directive, positive inner voice or self-talk. I liken this to the perfect coach. He or she who knows exactly what to say to you at any time to keep you going, running well, enjoying the challenge, soaking up the experience, making the most from the event.

    There you have it, now get out there an practice it in each training session so it is ready, like the rest of you, for race day.

  • Hi Victor,

    Just interested to know, when we cross the finishing line and collected our bits and pieces, how should we start our recovery process e.g. what to eat and drink and how often and what to avoid? and what stretching exercises should we do after and later on?  I'm just thinking of my journey home on the train on monday!

    Many thanks in advance

  • From Pamela Bruce:

    I'm a first-time marathoner who's running the Edinburgh marathon.  I've done a 20 mile race as part of my training but am struggling to fit in long runs (15+) with work / family commitments.  Is it as effective to do several shorter runs (i.e. 10 miles)?

    My reply:

    There is a balance between quality and quantity. Yes mileage is important, but so too is mileage run at the right pace and doing what you think is relevant for the marathon. So, short, or long runs done with you saying to yourself that this is too short, too slow, too hilly, too fast or whatever, will only lead you to believe on race day that you aren’t prepare, to have lower confidence and more stress. Therefore, leading to a probable poorer event. So, do what you can, do what you think is most relevant and see how it is helping you prepare for the day.

     Best of luck

    Victor

  • From Kittenkat:

    How do you suggest people deal with the fact that they might not get a personal best in distance again. I'm very competitive and did very well in 2009, now I can't seem to get that edge back and am finding it depressing.

    I'm 41 now, how can I change my mindset to still enjoy racing? I've never been one to 'just enjoy the experience'.

    My reply:

    Thanks for your question. This is a tricky one for the runner. Early in our running careers performance increases, times tumble and things are good. Then we start to plateau and this is a testing time. I recommend that you see this as a challenge – to manipulate your training to try to be better prepared. Have a race plan for the day that covers pacing, nutrition, and your focus during the event. Ensure that your attitude is to see the day as a challenge, something to rise to, to do your best at and to see what happens. Your body is slightly different day to day, with lots of changes so you never know exactly what you have to show on race day. The goal becomes to do your best, and if you have done this, then you can be satisfied no matter what time you get. Plus, this strategy will likely maximise the chance that you will get a new PB!

     Victor

  • Hi Victor

    I am entered at VLM (my 4th marathon in 12months) and i have had a horrendous run up with injuries and flu and now I am suffering from overtraining syndrome. I am finding it difficult to decide whether to do the race as I am very competitive and had it in my mind to go for a PB (sub 3:15) but now it is an impossible ask so wondered whether you would advise me to sit out of this one or to do the race and if so what to do in order to get rid of my angst of underperforming.

    Many thanks

    R2R

  • Hi Victor,

    Just yesterday I had to concede defeat and with withdraw from this year's race after a series of  injuries stopped my training short at 16 miles. I'm now really scared about building up my distance again for fear of once again experiencing the crippling pain that pulled me up short miles from home. Though I have plans to prevent the injuries happening again in future, how do I regain the confidence I need in time to decide whether to enter next year's race by the June deadline?

    Thanks,

    Berry

  • From Gladrags:

    Mine is a simple question - what are your tips for maintaining motivation when it starts to flag?

    Generally I am ok but I have had 2 bad races when my mind took matters into its own hands and I stopped running. Physically I could have run but mentally, the fact that conditions weren't quite right (temperature/crowds) led to this despair that could not be overcome.

    So how can I give myself a good talking to and motivate myself to keep going when it gets tough?

    My reply.

    Thanks for your question

    Consider ahead of the race:

    1. how you will manage the event so that this challenge is unlikely to develop
    2. If it is to develop, how will you spot it early (e.g., signs of fatigue, negative self-talk...)
    3. What can you do to manage it if it develops so you continue to press on, hold your pace, be okay with the challenge. This may be a combination of helpful self-talk or statements, reminding yourself of your strategy, of your goal etc. Perhaps you can recall what has helped you to tough it out before in races or life.

     Victor

  • Dr Victor - many thanks. Very helpful - I will go & think of positive, realistic, images now image
  • From Kyle Coulter:

    Hi Victor

    This is more a question about 'not racing' than racing. I was supposed to be running Brighton on Sunday but picked up an injury to my foot right at the start of my taper which is going to put me out of action for at least 6 weeks. I'm pretty gutted and feeling a bit down about it all as my training had gone really well. Any words of wisdom?

    Thanks Kylie

    My reply:

    Surely it is the wisest who back off, retreat and then come back to battle (or racing) fitter and better prepared. This is better than ploughing through with an injury following a programme or plan only to end up being unable to run for months or ever again.

    Accept that stuff (or insert expletive) just happens. Review what went well and not so well in training? What, if anything, may have led to your injury? Why is it good now to back off and recover? What can you do to use the time now – cross training, other activities, meeting friends, reading...? How will you stage your comeback – in terms of training and racing – now that you have become more experienced and wiser?

    You will come fitter and stronger.

    Victor

  • From Chris:

    Hi Victor,

    I'm in a similar situation to Kylie above. Also picked up an injury to my right ankle 6 weeks ago and it's seriously affected my training since then. With London in a weeks time things do not look great. Am seeing a specialist this afternoon to try and get a definitive diagnosis, but fear the "do not run for xx weeks" line. Will be devasated if this is the case. How to deal with this? Have tried to learn to love swimming and cycling, but it's just not cricket, I mean, running!

    Thanks, Chris.

    My reply:

    Chris, like for Kyle above, if you have to take time out and have to pull out of the race, see this as a good decision, a phase, something that you will bounce-back from. Fighting it will only bring you more stress and then you’ll have to accept it later anyway.

    Victor

  • Hi Victor,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

    Mine is a fairly common issue: can you tell me why, after 14 weeks of good training where I've run farther and faster than ever before, 9 days before my first marathon I'm struggling to run 5 miles in less than 10 minute miles?

    I think I know the answer, and that is that my nerves are getting in the way. The trouble is, every bad run I have makes it worse!

    Do you have any tips or specific things to do to get myself out of this dip and ready for Sunday, April 22nd?

    Thank you.
  • From Berry Nic e:

    Hi Victor,

    Just yesterday I had to concede defeat and with withdraw from this year's race after a series of  injuries stopped my training short at 16 miles. I'm now really scared about building up my distance again for fear of once again experiencing the crippling pain that pulled me up short miles from home. Though I have plans to prevent the injuries happening again in future, how do I regain the confidence I need in time to decide whether to enter next year's race by the June deadline?

    Thanks,

    Berry

    My reply:

    Berry, that’s bad news. Further to what I’ve written in my 2 posts above, you need to develop a good plan for recovery, have a good physio and/or sports masseur who will help give you an MOT to check for niggles early (if your injury is a soft tissue one), then develop a gradually progressive run program that will help you physically get ready. This program will include distance and pacing that will be relevant to the marathon so as you follow the program you gain confidence that you are getting closer and closer to being ready for the 26 mile jaunt.

    Oh, and enter it in June, show a bit of faith and take the risk that you might just be ready and have a great marathon in 2013!

    Victor

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