As a coach, I love to support and learn from observing how other people have their own experience in sport, while giving them the foundational skills to find that experience and the opportunity to touch on their potential. It’s the same kind of philosophy I have in parenting.
For instance, when my children wanted to climb trees, I sometimes helped them find trees that were within their ability and size (I would find trees that had lots of good branches and branches low enough for them to get up on their own.) I would ensure they had the right footwear to climb trees, then give them some skills – staying close to the trunk, making sure you can have 3 points touching at all times, test your footing – and then I would let them have their own experience climbing the tree. I tried very hard not to colour their experience with my own fears (of them falling), or how high they should go. Most children, when given the chance to take reasonable risks, have a good sense of their own limitations and the only way for them to learn is to learn free of judgement.
In running and most of sport, the moments of truth come when we ask ourselves to go faster, longer, acquire a new skill and move out of comfort. I can’t make anyone do any of these things. I can provide the knowledge around skills and can choose the environment that supports them, and then I stand and watch the magic happen.
If you are ready to take on the challenge of going a little faster this season, here is a primer on executing a great training session.
Get excited! This means that you come to the session ready to give best effort and having made the decision to have a good day. You are not coming to ‘wait and see what happens’. As a coach, I call this ‘training like you mean it’. It means arriving early, prepared, with positive energy, standing tall and being in an engaged frame of mind.
Warm up well
Do 10-15 minutes of light warm up running or walking. After the warm up do some dynamic stretching such as leg swings and arm circles, and stretch out body areas that feel tight. Before the intervals, do a set of run drills and strides. Drills and strides activate the muscle fibres fully for training and create mental preparedness. Strides are 10 seconds of fast dynamic running or walking, at the pace you will hit in the intervals but not your all out speed. You should be able to be relaxed and hold perfect form for the stride. Walk or jog for 30 seconds between stride efforts.
Attempt to pace the whole workout evenly; that means maintaining the same speed throughout the intervals and being mindful of energy to be able to complete the whole set. Your effort will need to increase and you should have to focus with concentration as the set goes on: this is to be expected. Begin each interval with a burst of dynamic running or walking, pumping arms and legs to get up to pace, but not sprinting. After a few seconds relax into pace and check that you are breathing well and staying relaxed in the upper body. Allow your mind to focus only on moving well. Be aware of your goal effort and tune into this pace. You can keep this as a sense of internal or perceived effort, and/or use a device that will show heart rate, speed and distance covered. Over time you will learn more about your own effort and pace.
Once you have gained expertise in pacing and effort, commit to the pace and discomfort of the interval, not relenting at the first sign of fatigue. This sense of discipline to ‘hold strong through discomfort’ is best honed in practice and creates emotional fortitude for the stress of race day. The more you practice this, the better you get.
Learn where the half way section of every interval is and focus on that second half, maintaining rhythm and attention to the body. As you fatigue, put emphasis on your biomechanics, keeping tall posture, being graceful, relaxed in shoulders, face and torso. Think intently about forward momentum and doing a good job.
Finish it off
Be strong right through the finish of every interval, resisting the urge to give up even a second early. This is another example of small ways you can be constantly mentally tweaking your game. Keep moving. Shake out the arms, exhale deeply, walk or jog lightly for 10-15 seconds to facilitate lactic acid dispersal. Walk and jog between intervals. Keeping the legs moving helps your blood move through the body for the recovery and prepares you for the next interval. Resist the urge to rush impatiently into the next interval.
Sports Psych 101
Mentally prepare for the next interval by letting go of the one you just did and only focussing on breathing, relaxing and the one coming up. Notice if you have thoughts or habits of negative self-talk (`That was not fast enough`), or a ‘fail to succeed’ (`I can’t hold this pace for the set`) mentality very common in athletes.
During my career as a high performance athlete I must have repeated “C’mon Lucy, be tough!” about a million times to myself. It never got old.
Focus on one goal at a time
As you approach the next interval, decide to do the next one well, at least as good as the one you just did, and even find a way to make it better. Find one goal for each interval.
Right before the start of the interval, shake out your legs and arms, take several deep breaths and focus your mind. Practice taking a quiet mind into each interval.
If you can achieve this, you will have fleeting moments of being in the ‘zone’, a space where direct judging thoughts cease and your concentration is like a light beam only on the act of moving.
At the end of a set of high effort work, jog and walk for another 5 minutes, take some water if needed, and then do a very gentle and easy jog for at least 10 minutes. Stretch now or make time to stretch later, as this may greatly reduce your chance of injury.
Using these guidelines, come up with your own smooth successful training routine. Soon your speedy sessions will translate into superior fitness, mental fortitude and great races.
Training with integrity: the opportunity to practice mindfulness, create better health for ourselves, be compassionate to others, and reach a little higher in our lives.
Run For Joy!
Lucy Smith, March 2019
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.