Body and mind walk hand in hand when it comes to running success. With a battle of will and wits often ensuing when we hit the dreaded runner’s wall, what are the secrets for breaking it down and beating our PBs in the fastest and safest way possible?
We asked personal trainer Dan Roberts and Psychologist Elaine Slater for their top fitness tips for prepping both brawn and brain before and during race day. From proper form to correct technique to ways to power through our mental barriers, here’s their go-to workout plan for putting our best foot forward and balancing speed with strength and stealth.
Personal trainer Dan Roberts’ top training and fitness tips
Train for success
“To train for long runs, you have to consistently push your limits. The harder and longer you train, the more your body (lungs, muscles and tendons) will adapt. You want your body to be stressed - not so much that it gets hurt, but not too little that it won’t adapt.
“To find this happy medium, use a running coach or just trial and error it. Generally speaking, I find that non pro-athletes train too little and don't go out of their comfort zone enough! I remind my clients that the work you put in this week will help you the next.”
Listen to your footsteps
“Turn off your music every 10 minutes and make sure you are running quietly. Heavy foot strikes are going to tire your joints unnecessarily.”
Keep your stride length consistent
“Your body works best when you ‘let it’ rather than force it. Getting into a rhythm as quickly as you can and maintaining it makes a huge difference. The reality is, the human body is very well-designed both physiologically and bio-mechanically to run long distances. Being good is actually more about taking away the obstacles to this reality, (both physically and psychologically).”
Practice good posture
“Be mindful of posture. Stay upright as when you get tired, you will slump and this will not only affect you psychologically but also physiologically as your lungs and hips won't work as well when slumped over. Stand tall, with a very slight lean forward.”
Keep glycogen levels high for when you hit ‘The Wall’
“Make sure your glycogen levels are not depleted. All carbs are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen, but after about 90 minutes of running, stores run out and your speed and motor control will suffer, (marathon runners call it, ‘The Wall’).
“The two best things you can do are a) make sure you have had some carbs before going for a run and b) have some sugary sweets with you - this is literally the only time it's good to eat sweets to push your blood sugar levels up. However, there’s no need to take snacks if you’re running less than 90 minutes.”
Get your breathing right
“Breathe in through the nose and mouth together and out through the mouth. If you are breathing in from your mouth only, you are probably going too fast!”
Be aware of your weaknesses
“Work on your weaknesses in the gym. For example, if your quads get tired, then run a little less for a few weeks and do more squats. If your hip flexors get tight, then stretch them more. You are only as strong as your weakest link, (both physiologically and psychologically).”
Work the water works
“Even 1% dehydration affects physical performance. It’s best to sip little and often every 20 minutes. If you have too much in one go, then you'll need to ‘pit stop’ which you want to minimise!”
“To prevent interrupting your rhythm, go to the toilet before you run.”
Don’t run through the pain
“Running while in pain sucks. See a physio and check your knees track properly, your gluteus medius and maximus engage and your gait is good. If you have any issues with these, you will increase the chance of injuries.”
Do one-legged burpees
“These strengthen your glutes as well as the legs and ankle stabilisers and are amazing for core stability. They’re a great exercise for runners (and as an added bonus, they’re also a brilliant bum-lifting and firming exercise too).”
How to do them: Keeping the body upright, balance on your right foot. Bend over and put your hands on the floor, shoulder-distance apart. Kick your leg back so you are in a push-up position, keeping your left foot slightly elevated throughout the movement. Kick your right foot back to the starting position, stand back up and jump. Do 6 sets of 8, alternating legs after each set.
Find your swing
“Your arms need to swing correctly to help propel you forward with ease. They need to be at right angles, close to the body with a dynamic movement to the rear, thus letting them swing forward naturally.”
Psychologist Elaine Slater’s top tips for breaking through your mental barrier
Keep the faith
“Stay mentally tough. Don’t give in to periods of self-doubt and discomfort. Remember to have faith in all the training that you have done.”
Remember the good times...
“When you need to dig deep for extra strength, remind yourself how you’ve worked through your fatigue during your training runs and how you can do it again.”
Keep your emotions in check
“Don’t get too emotional – stay as calm as possible, and conserve your mental energy.”
Take it one step at a time
“Maintain your focus on just getting from one moment to the next. Be patient - a marathon is not won in the first few miles, but it can be lost there.”
“If you find yourself in a tough painful moment, remind yourself it will soon be just a memory.”
Shift your focus
“When you start to feel pain, discomfort or tiredness – think outside your body. Allow your mind to take over from your body and focus on what is happening around you for example other runners, spectators and the scenery.”
Employ visualisation techniques
“To the human mind, there is no difference between an actual experience and an imagined one. Using visualisation techniques, imagine in your mind’s eye a successful race with a positive outcome.”
And remember, you’ve got this
“Keep your focus with self-affirmations; repeat pre-prepared positive running mantras for example, ‘I can do this.’”