Le Trail de Sauvageonne – Regaining the Freedom

Le Trail de Sauvageonne - Regaining the Freedom of Running

After my adventure up Canigou I decided it was time to rest; in truth I could do little else. I also had to go back to England to earn some money. This meant going back to 6am starts, 1 1/2 hour commutes and grabbing a run on a lunch time when I could or running at 7pm when I got back. For most of the time I am lucky enough to avoid this with its associated stress on mind and body. Whilst last September I had hoped to leave behind for good this stressful work routine, building a business is a slow process and as part of this transition it’s important for me to keep going back to maintain my lifestyle through this period.

However, as is usually the case it was not many days before my legs began to itch and my mind began to need the space that I can only get when running. Perhaps an interval session with the Wharfedale Harriers was not the ideal second run on my return phase…

That speed session practically broke me! For the next two days I felt like I’d run a marathon again, my body ached all over and the sensible voice which must exist somewhere within me broke faintly through the noise; I heard whisperings of previously read articles about how long it takes the body to recover from a marathon and how long it takes for the glucose to be completely replaced (6 weeks apparently). In this age where longer and longer distances are becoming more popular, it’s easy to forget that, just as it takes time to train for these events it also takes time to recover. 

Why I am routinely both surprised and dismayed to learn that my body is not a machine I do not know, somewhere deep within is a wise runner, but this person gets very little air time. The value of having a coach is that they can give that wise runner more air time. Many a session with John has consisted of him asking one pertinent question (e.g. how does this fit in to your overall goals?) to help the wise runner emerge. If truth be told sometimes John has to be the wise runner for me!

The following weeks were all about consistency, a little each day with at least one full rest day enabled me to start to feel the rhythm again. By the time I returned home I felt ready to train hard again so when a friend mentioned a small local trail race at Egat just an hour away I couldn’t resist; the smaller 10km race as some speed training seemed like a sensible option.

My favourite races are small, local events, run by local people. I knew this was going to be a good one when the race organiser explained that they simply wanted to share some of their beautiful countryside with others. Local runners and inhabitants of Egat turned out to ensure that the race could take place. It was, as is always the case in France, well marked and, more unusually for France, the majority of the descent was off the paths. I had followed Theo all the way to the top and as he surged easily away from me on the descent, I was reminded once again of my need to do some work on my descending skills. That said, I loved it; running across that tussocky grass, dodging or jumping over the bushes and shrubs I could feel the freedom return. Coming in first female was a small but welcome bonus; it showed things were on track and I’d managed my recovery well.

People who do not run often ask, ‘why?’ and my answer varies. I think for me the real addictive nature of running is the freedom I can feel when being out in the hills/mountains just running, I don’t have to think about anything else I can just focus on taking the next steps and being. Running is my time to think, my time to heal, my time to reboot and remind myself that my body can take me to the beautiful spaces that we often forget exist in the world.

Le Canigou

Sometimes I see a mountain and I want to climb it, I don’t know why, it's like a voice in my head that says, 'it would be good to climb that,’ and my heart begins to stir. My first encounter with le Canigou was on holiday in 2015. We visited Vernet-les-Bains and walked to the edges of the town built into the hillside and there she was peacefully watching over us, a great mountain bathed in the summer sun. And the voice began to whisper, ‘woulnd’t it be good to climb that?’. At that time I was not fit, I had over-trained during 2014/15, I was tired and I could not run for more than an hour. But the voice had spoken. It was John who told me that there is a race up Canigou but at that moment it seemed to me that I would like simply to run up Canigou to reach her summit would be enough. I looked at the mountain, took a photograph and went back to England, to work…with the image of le Canigou as my new screensaver.

There are those who believe that Canigou is sacred, I am neither religious nor superstitious, but without doubt the mountain seemed to mysteriously draw me to her. To improve our life and because we love to be in the mountains we moved to Casteil in November 2017. I started running with the local running club Trail Vernet Adventure and of course they asked me the question: ‘Tu va faire le Championnat du Canigou?’ By this point I was recovering well, John had put together some sensible training allowing me to recover and rebuild my fitness, mixing running with cycling and appropriate amounts of rest. I completed some local shorter mountain races and the little voice grew stronger, 'you can do it, it will be good to climb the Canigou how wonderful to race it.’ The mountain herself seemed to be watching me, every walk, every mountain bike ride she loomed over me, beckoning me, challenging me with her beauty and her magnificence. Even in the quietness of an evening read there she was: in Boff Whalley’s book ‘Run Wild’ he talks about Canigou and people who would run to the summit to find ice for the wealthy visitors to the spa town below. I started to train with the help of John.

I began to get fit and to see some good results in some races up to 20km; I began to get excited and to wonder just how fast I could run up this great mountain. However, despite our best intentions, training never goes absolutely to plan. I had to work in England a few times to support myself; I was sick in the month of July so I arrived at the start line on August 5th  without having ever climbed the Canigou, without  the training that I had wanted to do, feeling unprepared and nervous. I knew it would be hard and especially because I have typically struggled with longer distance races. This course was 20 miles long with 2300m of climb. Climbing has never really scared me but the distance…that could break me. 

This would not do, this was my dream, the voice had spoken, it must be completed! To turn myself around from the dark mutterings of negativity I said to myself, ‘it's an adventure, you'll realise your dream to climb Canigou in the race.’  I thought if I could pace it sensibly and keep positive in my mind I could do it. What I did not expect was the number of people on the course that day, ordinary people who had off early in the morning to be there to encourage and motivate us with the refreshments every 3 miles including water and fruit. Musical instruments were played with gusto, and the energy and joy of everyone cheering us on willed us to continue. It felt like the whole town of Vernet-les-Bains had come out in force to ensure every runner reached the summit, and to rejoice in the success of each of us. It was as though  the voice in my head and the voice of the mountain joined with the voice of the people to help me succeed my dream. Despite my lack of endurance, despite feeling sick during the climb, despite the weakness in my legs, the voices moved me onwards.

For me, le Championnat du Canigou was a real adventure, it's a difficult race with the technical pieces, not for the feint-hearted. Whilst there are wonderful running sections over the plain at the foot of the mountain, this is interspersed with ground so rough you are forced to walk and even scramble up the chimney. The descent is initially technical requiring lightness of foot and an ability to jump between rocks, no mean feat after 10 miles of climbing and legs like jelly. 

Undoubtedly the difficult goals always taste the sweetest, however, and I was very happy to complete the course albeit an hour slower than I had originally planned. I am proud to have finished this race and I have learned once again that with the power of my mind and the positivity and will of others, as well as perhaps the mysterious magic of the mountain I can reach amazing summits. I am determined to return in 2019 for another adventure!

What are your dreams

As Jenny Graeme whizzes round the World in her record attempt, inspiring us all to look differently at life’s challenges and adventures, I thought it would be interesting to reflect a little on goals and challenges. 

Throughout my life and particularly more recently, as a coach, I have met and worked with people with seemingly impossible challenges in mind. 

Perhaps the first real big one was when I went to see Karen Darke in December 2009 and she told me that she was thinking of trying to get to the London Paralympics in hand cycling, an event she had only competed in twice and both times been a resounding last place finisher. She got a silver medal in London and Gold in Rio 4 years later, having gone ‘off piste’, as we call it, a few times to escape the grind of specific training and achieve other amazing adventures.

Lee Craigie and the Adventure Syndicate are another group of amazingly inspirational people and athletes. I was lucky enough to work with Lee, Emily Chappel, Jenny, Paula Regana and the Adventure Syndicate team on the first Adventure Syndicate training camp at Girona Cycling, where I met many inspiring people who have gone on to achieve amazing things. Many of whom I have been lucky enough to stay in touch with. The second camp, this year was a self supported camp, different but forming a springboard for many to reach their goals, inspire each other and form longstanding relationships…. even connecting with the campers of last year - small world? maybe!

It was at that first Girona camp that I met Jenny Graham, at that time Jenny’s goal was to ride the Arizona 750; as the name implies a 750 mile, self supported off road race in Arizona. Jenny had completed the Highland Trail 550 the previous year so it was clear that she wasn’t too far outside her comfort zone with her goal. In fact, snakes seemed to be her biggest conceptual challenge. 

I started working with Jenny shortly after the camp and it has been an amazing journey since then as I got to know such a wonderful person. Even having got to know Jenny I was somewhat surprised when she told me she wanted to break the record for cycling round the world - clearly something a bit outside her comfort zone in so many ways but why not? Jenny told me her plan during one of our regular Skype chats and we discussed a bit of the detail and figured out how it might work. Over the following months we worked out more plans, training sessions, routes, logistics and now she is more than half way round the world.

Karen’s and Jenny’s stories are quite extreme and of course required a lot of hard work and some sacrifice but have also brought great rewards. However they are examples of people who took on seemingly impossible goals. 

My philosophy is always, why not try? If you aim for something and don’t achieve, you will have had an amazing journey. You will probably be a lot fitter, have some new friends, seen new places and have learned lots of things. In most cases you will also have done something you would never have done if you didn’t try. But let’s not dwell on what might not work, let’s think about what it will be like when you succeed in your dream. 

So what are your dreams? Don’t hold back - amazing things are possible - why not give it a go?

Good luck and please get in touch, comment on the blog, start or join a discussion on our Facebook Group or message me directly if you have a personal question.

This week I am off to Battle Mountain in Nevada, where I am hoping to help Karen Darke break the land speed record for a hand cycle - exciting times!

Back in the Pyrenees

 

Quest 79 group photo
Quest 79 Mallorca Training Camp 2018

After the last blog I rushed off to Mallorca for a training camp with two hand cyclists and one paratriathlete; all amazing women (Lizzie from the UK, Svetlana from Russia/Austria and Arna from Iceland). It was a great experience to finally see the ideas I had discussed with Karen come to fruition and what a success.

Unfortunately the weather didn't smile on us during the week but the group worked so well together. The workshops were lively and interactive, the one to ones were readily adopted by the interested and committed athletes. Everyone had their own training plans and helped each other to find suitable routes with our help. Some rides in groups and some solo to make sure that when specific sessions were needed they were done to perfection.

Karen climbing the final stretch out of Vernet closely tracked by Helena
Karen climbing the final stretch out of Vernet closely tracked by Helena

Next up was our own camp in Casteil, a pilot for what we want to do here in our new Pyrenean home. The camp worked in a similar way to the other camps, self led with workshops and one to ones. I even did a bit of massage, which was a pleasant and rewarding reminder of another way I can use my skills to benefit people. I am planning to do a bit more once we get a bit more organised.

Four athletes attended, staying in our apartment upstairs, which was perfect in many ways. We can accommodate more athletes using the same format and local accommodation but we want to keep things small so that we can give a great service and maintain the interaction in the workshops that we hold in our living space. Endurance cyclists, Jenny Graham and Karen Tostee I have worked with since January 2017, see previous blog, Karen't friend Helena who is just about to do the London Marathon and then I will be helping her with her cycling as she builds up to the Ironman World Championships in Kona and our competition winner Amy White who is looking forward to some ultra-trail races over the summer as well as our local race the Championnat du Canigou in August.

You can learn all about these camps on our camps pages and read about how it went for the athletes in their testimonials. Suffice it to say it was a great success and we are looking forward to running more camps as soon as we can tempt people to come and join us. If you are interested, have a look at the camps pages or send me an .

Amy enjoys the view from a mountain trail
Amy enjoys the view from a mountain trail

As well as the more predictable workshop requests such as understanding training zones, intensities and planning, the discussions highlighted some interesting common themes. Lifestyle challenges were highlighted in both the Mallorca and Casteil camps, even amongst the full time athletes. It is apparent that juggling life commitments and training into an effective package is difficult to achieve and a specific workshop helped identify priorities and understanding that could be worked on more specifically in one to one sessions. Although not planned as such, both camps were female only and this made it appropriate to focus on nutrition and training cycles specific to women's needs, something that definitely merits further time and effort. On the whole an interesting and wonderful experience.

Please let me know what you think, get in touch if you want to discuss anything further or feel you would like to contribute to or benefit from our activities in JHCoaching. You can email me at , or follow one of the links on the website.

What Clare thought:

What Clare thought of our first Endurance Workshop

Chilling out with Karen Darke's sports psychology book
Chilling out with Karen Darke’s sports psychology book

What a lovely experience to watch four determined and committed athletes come to us in March tired and stressed and leave more like themselves. The transformation was visible, as people began to relax and enjoy the simple structure of training, eating, workshops and resting.

Throughout my professional life I have strived to help people become better at life, better at coping, to become the person they really want to be. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a transformation happen so quickly. This is a credit to the commitment that each person gave to the camp and its processes. It worked far better than I could have hoped.

I love working with people and seeing them develop and grow; it’s a real pleasure to provide a setting in which they can do that. Rather selfishly it also gives me an opportunity to learn about myself and be inspired by the strength and talents of others.

You can find our more about our camps on our web pages or email for more information, to check availability or book a place by clicking .

A lot happens in a year

A lot happens in a year

Casteil in mountains It has been a few years since I wrote a blog. Partly because I got disillusioned by the process, feeling that my blogs were not being read and therefore feeling I could more usefully contribute to the world in other ways. Recently, however I have had some positive feedback relating to other people’s blogs and feel it is worth another go. I have just returned from a training camp/get together near Banyoles in Spain, where I was providing support as a coach via workshops and one to one sessions. I did the same last year and so this marks a year of formal association with the Adventure Syndicate an amazing group of women who have been kind enough to involve me in their work.

The camp was hosted by Girona Cycling at their base, Hotel Mas Pelegri, which is a really good location for both road and off-road cycling camps. Gareth and Fiona can provide hire bikes, suggested routes, guiding and even a rescue service if you get into difficulty. They certainly go beyond the norm in their support of their guests.

At the end of the camp last year I started working with some of the athletes that had attended, things developed really well with three of the riders and I continued to work with them throughout the year. Karen Tostee finished 3rd woman in the Trans Continental Race, her first ever bikepacking event; Paula Regener finished 4th in the same race and lead the Transatlantic Way Race in Ireland until injury forced her to retire; and Jenny Graham finished equal first woman in the Arizona 750, first overall in the Cairngorm Loop and 1st woman in the Highland Trail 500, beating the women’s record in the process. As you can imagine, it has been an amazing experience working with these women. I have also worked with a few men along the way and it has been a pleasure to share in their successes.

In other news I have bought a small house in a Pyrenean village near Prades, about an hour from Perpignan. The idea is to run small bespoke camps from here that focus on athletes' needs, taking the form of workshops and one to one coaching sessions as much as providing a training base. We will be running a small workshop in early March to iron out the details and hopefully have some camps going over the summer and Autumn.

Camps will be mainly focused on cycling and running but there is a pool and open water nearby so triathletes will be more than welcome.

Things in the Pyrenees will have to be put on hold for a short while though. I am leaving for Mallorca where I will be running a small training camp with Karen Darke. The camp is part of her Quest 79 initiative but also something we hope to make an annual event. Karen is an athlete and adventurer who I have coached to Paralympic medals in London and Rio, an amazing person who has become a very close and valued friend. Among many things, Karen is qualified in sports psychology so our camp will be focused on both the physical and psychological with workshops and one to ones, again making it athlete focused with learning and development a key element.

In future blogs I hope to explore more detailed ideas and write about some of my findings as a coach and athlete that I hope will be helpful in someway as you work towards your personal goals, adventures and challenges.

Please get in touch and let me know what you think and what you would like to read about. You can email me by clicking or follow one of the social media links.

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Hancycles, tricycles and training for Rio

A blog by Karen Darke, Hannah Dines and John Hampshire

me_in_cycling_jersey-profileI (John) first found out about handcycles when I visited Karen in Inverness in the Autumn of 2009. Before that, like many people, I hadn’t known of their existence and although I had obviously seen a tricycle I didn’t know much about them.

I started Coaching Karen shortly after that first visit and after 6 years, including her winning a Paralympic Silver medal from London 2012 we have both learnt a lot about handcycles and handcycle racing.

Recently I was fortunate enough to become friends with Hannah Dines, who is a tricycle rider on the British Cycling Team. Karen and Hannah are hoping to go the Paralympic Games in Brazil this September and to get medals in their respective disciplines.

Handcycles and more conventional tricycles, although both having three wheels are very different. However, in a very important respect they provide an opportunity to get out and enjoy the many benefits of cycling as well as the excitement of competition up to the highest level

Apart from the obvious mechanical differences there are more challenging performance aspects to be considered and that is where I focus as a coach. I try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both equipment and riders to help each athlete be their best.

Conventionally, Para-sport has been labelled disability sport but in reality this is just a way of determining competition forums that allow people to take part on a relatively equal footing. As a 52 year old man I cannot compete against men of relatively similar fitness in their 20s and 30s, although of course I am fitter than a lot of people that age. I therefore race against people my own age and category of fitness.

My point here is that to make the most of sport and competition, the important thing is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each athlete individually. Comparing these to the demands of the sport. By doing this it is possible to identify where gains and improvements can be made in a systematic and logical way. It is simple to say and difficult to do but it is interesting, challenging and exciting.

Karen in labKaren says: A few days ago marked 100 days to go until the start of the 2016 Paralympic Games. My ‘Paralympic’ focus began in 2008. It seemed a crazy dream to try and get to the 2012 Paralympics in London; little did I expect to be here for another four-year cycle and having a strong chance of selection and a medal in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

My first ever handbike experience was whilst in a spinal injuries hospital, trying out a clip-on handbike that fits onto the front of a wheelchair. I hated it as it didn’t support my upper body and I found myself just wobbling around and struggling to go any faster than my wheelchair. However, when I tried a recumbent handbike that supported my upper back and head, I was hooked. It’s a speed-machine. With good tarmac, I can steadily cruise at over 30kmph and if feeling edgy enough, I can fly at almost three times that speed downhill! In a good climate, it feels like a sun-bed on wheels; in a wet climate, like a broken shower spraying water in all directions. Regardless, I love it because it gives me so much freedom, allows me to get my heart rate to the max, stay fit and healthy and enjoy being outdoors.

But with three-months to go to Rio, I’m feeling a focus come over me like I’ve never felt before. It’s not a conscious decision…it’s like my body on all levels is preparing me to be in the best form possible, so that I can hopefully realise the dream I have this time; of up-grading from Silver to Gold. I believe I can do it, but it’s going to be a huge challenge. It seems that there is always at least one athlete I compete against who takes on a Goddess-like status, who just seems to have Gladiator strength and power. It’s an easy habit to diminish myself into the ‘underdog’, something I’ve been all too good at in the past. I’ve been a pro at putting myself on a psychological back step…seeing my competitors as stronger, faster and more capable, but knowing John is in my team for this ‘Round 2’, that we are nailing the training and the plan as well as working on the other ‘marginal gains’; all those tiny aspects that collectively can make a big difference, gives me a confidence I’ve never had before. Roll on Rio!

Hannahin a bunch in Italy Verola 2016Hannah says: Have you got neurological disorder that makes you fall over a lot? Wobble about all over the place? Get suspicious looks on the street doing your morning errands as people try and work out if you’re drunk or on drugs while you try and zigzag, inconspicuously, past them? I’m from Glasgow, so perhaps that’s less about my disability and more about the place in which I live.

Paracycling trike racing is cycling’s biggest up and coming discipline for people with a need for speed, who want to surf the tarmac are already used to feeling unstable and are ready to experience something incredible. Like surfing and mastering those incredibly powerful waves, trike riding is terrifying but also incredibly fulfilling and respect-worthy. Mastering a downhill or a corner takes a similar strength of character to BMXers, snowboarders, surfers. Red-Bull should be all over our helmets and our kit- an extreme sport for sure!

Racing trikes first developed as a sport for typically developed, able-bodied men who were bored of the arguably easier challenge of bike racing. Trikes are harder to handle, in a lot more ways than bikes.

The trike is stable at rest and requires a lot less coordination to get onto it and get it moving than your two-wheeled ride. Once moving though, that’s where it gets fun. To reassure you though, I fall off my trike a lot less than I fall off my legs. Walking is more dangerous and painful for me. That’s why trike racing appeals to me but it’s no toddlers’ game.

It takes away the need to weight bear, you never have to unclip your pedals, you can take an hour to heave yourself onto the saddle if you need, if you get the right frame you don’t have to lift your leg high over a crossbar.

You do have to work at keeping all three wheels on the ground, shifting your body weight for every pothole, corner and camber of the road.

There are mobility trikes out there, big stable beasts for pavement riding. Then there are light-weight, flashy trike shivs that stab into the horizon in a moment and can take you miles and miles into lands you could never have dreamed about. That is what it felt like when I changed from my ‘to school and back’ trike to my Geoff Booker light-weight steel custom frame(http://www.trykit.com/) and now I'm hoping to be selected for the Paralympics to represent GB. A bit different to your average school run.

Getting your hands on a proper racing trike, just to try, without spending the big bucks is the hard part. Harder in Scotland. British Paracycling only operates in England and Wales, email about trying out riding in Manchester. There is also the Tricycle Association, only in England, that often have second hand trikes to buy. You can always hit me up for more info: .

me_in_cycling_jersey-profile

A professional endurance coach since 2009, John Hampshire has worked with cyclists and runners from all over the world to help them achieve their goals. Whether you are training for your first road race or want to win an off-road trail marathon Coach John Hampshire can help you reach your potential and be your best. John enjoys working with a wide range of athletes from beginners to advanced as well as professionals. John offers personal coaching to individuals as well as teams and groups.

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Motivation magic

5 ‘magic’ tricks to get motivated

It’s a bit chilly and the excitement of the New Year may have worn off a bit so keeping to that exercise regime may be getting difficult. This could be particularly the case if your main targets are in the summer or similarly far away in time.

If you are struggling to keep getting out and exercising or sticking to your plan, here are a few ideas you might find helpful.

1. Make your exercise part of a routine

If you make your exercise part of your daily life it will be much easier. It takes a bit of motivation at first but once you establish the routine it is just what you do. I used to run in the mornings so got into the routine of getting up, putting my kit on and setting off. On some days it was so automatic I’m sure I didn’t properly wake up until I found myself half way round my morning run route. It is also a good idea to do the same thing every day or every working day if it is a morning routine; or at least most days but always have the same day off.

Other good ideas are to call in at the gym on your way home from work or during another trip. Exercise before going shopping at the weekend; there are many ways to do it. Be creative but remember it works best if you tag onto something you do already.

Make a promise to yourself to do at least 1 month of your new routine to make it a habit.

2. Sign up to a class or exercise with a friend

This is really about making a commitment. If you sign up to an exercise class or arrange to meet your friend at a given place and time you have made a commitment and if you don’t go you will be letting your friend down.

Following on from my morning run theme, I often used to run with a friend in the mornings, meeting at an appointed place at a given time meant there was no thinking involved just a case of getting up and getting to the meeting place.

Other similar things are joining a club that meets at the same time and place each week. Once you have made a few friends there, you will enjoy it and you will also know that they may ask you where you have been if you miss a session. Just a little more incentive to turn up.

3. Think about the benefits

Remember that you have many reasons for training, you may have a goal competition coming up and most of the time you probably enjoy the benefits of your training when you get back and often while you are exercising. If you are lacking in motivation just think of these things.

You can make a list of all the reasons you exercise and train. You can do this yourself, work on the list with a friend or ask a professional such as a sports coach to help you. Put the list on display somewhere you will see it, particularly somewhere you may see it if you are having trouble getting out to train. When you see the list it will help you remember all the good things about what you are missing out on and motivate you to train.

4. Keep a diary and look at it

Keep a diary and as you see how much training you have done, how things are improving you will be motivated to keep going. When you notice a positive change you can note it down and spend a little time thinking about how far you have come from where you started.

It is quite easy to keep a diary nowadays with the smart gadgets that record your exercise: heart rate monitors, GPS watches and tools on smartphones such as Strava, Garmin Connect and Suunto Movescount. These sites also form communities that you can use to help motivate you, automatically comparing your performances with your previous sessions as well as with others who do similar routes.

5. Tell someone about what you are doing, your plans and progress and get feedback

Working and training with a friend or coach is a great way to keep motivated. Coaches are professionally trained to help you stay motivated so their skills can be invaluable, your success is also their success so both athlete and coach can work together when the going gets tough.

It is sometimes difficult to stay motivated if you are trying to do everything yourself and with no support. If you don’t want to tell people you know about what you are doing you can work with a professional coach and surprise people when you do that great competition or challenge. If you have interested, non-judgemental friends or training partners you can discuss your goals and progress with them.

Involving other people is a great way to stay motivated and also a great way to build confidence in what you are doing. Particularly if you can get knowledgeable feedback on your ideas and ambitions.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I know the ideas and techniques have helped me and many of my friends and the athletes I work with so they definitely work.

Good luck, have fun and please let me know what you think.

John

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Getting back from illness or injury

As anyone who has been associated with sport for any length of time knows; illness, injury or otherwise getting off track can have significant impact on performance and progress. These things are more likely to strike at times of change, when things are a bit less predictable either due to external factors such as the weather or more controlled factors such as changes in training emphasis.

This time of year is very much a time of change, the weather is changing, there is less daylight in the evenings (in the Northern Hemisphere) so the types of training that are easily available in the summer months are more restricted. It is the time of year when colds and flu start to strike and also a time of year that it is easy to pick up an injury as training and racing surfaces change, racing is different and often there is a change in the emphasis of training sessions.

Care is needed to avoid illness and/or injury, maintaining a routine, getting plenty of sleep and eating well are a good start. Make changes in training gradual and don’t just jump into a new phase of training, no matter how enthusiastic you may be as you think about new and exciting targets. Being unable to do the sport you love can be deeply frustrating and upsetting. This can lead to rash decisions about training which sadly all too often results in further injury and/or illness.

If you do get injured or ill it is important not to fight it. Accept that you will have to make some changes and take the necessary time to get back to full fitness.

Although slightly out of the original context, the acronym AMP from Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox seems appropriate and is very similar to the approach described by Scott Jurek in his book Eat and Run.

AMP stands for:

  • Accept - accept things have not gone to plan; this may take a bit of time;
  • Move on - when ready;
  • Plan - having no plan will at best slow recovery and at worst lead to numerous relapses and chronic injury or fatigue that may take months or years to recover from.

Accepting you need to take a step back and re-plan things can be seen as a positive step to getting to where you want to be. If something hasn’t worked or there is an unforeseen problem the sooner you work out what to do to overcome it the better and the quicker you will be back on track to doing the things you need to do.

Planning is important for two main reasons:

  • to avoid a recurrence of the problem by identifying the cause and modifying things accordingly. The adage, if you keep doing the same thing you will get the same result is very true and poignant here;
  • if you have had more than a couple of weeks off training, you will need to take account of reduced fitness levels and build back up. Jumping straight in where you left off is a recipe for disaster and further setback.

Pay particular emphasis to accepting current fitness levels. It is no good basing things on previous training phases, just because 20 hours of training per week was right in the past doesn’t mean it is right after a period of illness or injury.

This is crucially important and it is worth taking some time to think about current fitness levels and available time and energy. This is perhaps the most common reason for failure, injury and illness in more experienced athletes trying to regain the performance levels of previous times without taking the time to build and plan properly. In this respect it is good to get an objective and non-judgmental helper, or better still to employ the services of a coach who can knowledgeably assess your fitness level and get you back on track with a solid plan for success. I personally find it rewarding to work with committed athletes who are struggling to get back from injury/illness and I have had the pleasure of seeing clients return to their original fitness and beyond. You can also find more detailed ideas about planning in my ebook chapters.

If you are injured then think around the problem and look to what you can do. You may not enjoy cross training or the gym but there are many options that you could probably adopt to maintain or even build fitness in ways that don’t aggravate your injury. Also consider remedial and preventative exercises that will help avoid recurrence of the problem as well as ensuring your new plan avoids as much as possible the cause of your injury.

In the return to full fitness things change quickly and progress is sometime fast but also there may be setbacks that must also be accepted.

If things go wrong, don’t give up, take a step back and rethink things again. There is almost always a solution and the benefits of being fit and enjoying sports are worth the often considerable effort involved in overcoming obstacles no matter how big.

I speak from personal experience in saying how amazing it feels to be able to take part once again in a sport which I had considered giving up altogether due to injury. It is wonderful to be able to help and see others get back on track and achieve successes they had never dreamed possible after so much frustration.

Have fun and please let me know what you think.

John

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Chapter 7: Think better, perform better

As with my ebook, ‘How do I get fitter, faster, better?’, this is a simple guide to practical techniques in sports psychology that can be used by athletes at any level to make real gains in performance.

Try asking yourself a couple of questions:

What proportion of your performance do you think is due to your mind?

What proportion of the training time do you commit to training your mind?

My guess is there will be a discrepancy between the two answers and in all likelihood you believe that your mind plays a significantly greater role in your performance than the proportion of time you spend training it.

In associating with a number of elite athletes and also carefully watching interviews with others it is apparent that the best athletes think differently to the norm. Many athletes focus on missed training, niggling injuries and sometimes dread racing with expectation of failure. The best athletes see competition as an exciting opportunity to find out how well they can do.

So, if you were an elite athlete how would you think?

Of course, you may be an elite athlete but even if you are I think you will enjoy and benefit from this exercise.

Think about your approach to competition. It is good to think of a specific example but if you don’t have one or you are coming up to your first competition don’t worry, just imagine a scenario.

Close your eyes and breath deeply and slowly for a few breaths then imagine yourself at a competition. Think about how you feel, what you are doing, what you see, smell, hear and feel. How are you preparing for the competition,

  • are you chatting with friends or alone?
  • are you being positive about yourself of negative?
  • are you thinking about the coming competition or what you are going to have for dinner?
  • are you happy or sad?
  • are you looking forward to the competition?
  • do you expect to win or lose,
  • achieve your goal, exceed your goal or fail?

Make a few notes and list the 5 strongest points about how you think and feel before competitions.

Now have a break, make a cup of tea or wander round a bit.

Now repeat the exercise but imagine you are the best athlete in the world at the moment:

  • are you chatting with friends or alone?
  • are you being positive about yourself of negative?
  • are you thinking about the coming competition or what you are going to have for dinner?
  • are you happy or sad?
  • are you looking forward to the competition?
  • do you expect to win or lose,
  • achieve your goal, exceed your goal or fail?

Make a few notes and list the 5 strongest points about how you would think and feel before competitions if you were the best in the world.

Now think about the differences and whether you think you could prepare differently for competitions. My guess is you could and if you did you would improve your performance and enjoyment almost immediately.

Pre competition routine:

You can use the results of this exercise to think about how to change your approach to competing.

While things are still fresh in your mind you can write a schedule of how you will prepare for competition in the future. Start by writing down how you will spend the week before the competition and then the day before, getting to the venue and what you will do 2 hours, 1 hour, 30 minutes, etc… before the start. Visualise each stage to see how if feels and whether it is realistic. You can practice the routine before a training sessions to make sure everything works.

Things you may like to consider are

  • music? do you want to use music to help you avoid distractions, if so it can be good to prepare a playlist that works for you and gets you in the right frame of mind;
  • if you are to associate with people and club mates before the competition are some people better to be around than others. People that sap your energy and confidence are best avoided and certainly best avoided before competition. It is usually better to avoid other people where possible so that you can maintain control of your environment and avoid any unexpected distractions;

After your next competition, think about how it went and how you can improve. Modify your pre competition plan if necessary and continue to improve.

Some common techniques and concepts

Negative self talk

Perhaps the most common negative influence from our minds is known as negative self talk. This is where negative statements come into our minds, either before or during competition. Before competition it might be things like; ‘you haven’t trained enough’, ‘you aren’t very fit’, ‘he/she looks much fitter than me’, etc…. In competition, say for during an endurance event, things like ‘I can’t go as fast as him/her’, ‘I’d better slow down or I won’t finish’, ‘I have no chance of making my time so I may as well give up’, etc….

It is reasonable to say that doubt comes into everyone’s mind at some point but there are techniques that can be used to turn the negative thinking round to positive.

First it is worth introducing an important concept that has many uses:

The Winning Image

The winning image is an image of success, you achieving your goal.

If you haven’t already, you can create and reinforce your winning image now.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goal. Imagine how you feel, what you see, what you hear; be happy about your winning image.

Once you have your image in mind make it more vivid, make the colours around you brighter, the sounds more positive and the feelings of elation more powerful and exciting.

The more you practice your winning image the more powerful and motivating it will be. You can use it to help you get out training when you don’t feel like it. Feel positive about yourself during tough times and if you are ill or injured you can go back to your winning image to motivate you to do the right things to speed your recovery and get back in training.

You can also use the winning image to deal with negative self talk and to do this you can learn the Stop/Clap technique.

Stop/clap technique to stop negative self talk

First of all there is a bit of work, you need a couple of lists.

Write down a list of all the negative things that come into your head that are unhelpful to your sport. Take some time to do this; aim for at least 10 things, you can add to the list over time as you notice other unhelpful ideas that you want to change.

Now for each item on your negative list write a positive alternative. For example:

Negative

Positive

I’m not good enough to do this race.

I have trained for this race and can do my best, I can be happy with my achievement because I have done my best.

Everyone looks much fitter than me.

I have trained for this competition and everyone is a human being just like me. I do not know how well I will do but I will enjoy finding out and compete to the best of my ability.

Everyone looks like they are experts and I have no idea what to do.

I have thought carefully about what to do before the competition. I can stick to my plan and I will be properly prepared for the competition. Others may have different ways to prepare but my way is best for me.

During the competition you may be tired and want to stop. “I am tired and can’t carry on”

I have trained for this competition and I know I can finish. I can keep working hard and find out how well I will do (visualise winning image for extra motivation).

 

 

After writing these lists you will be able to start to ignore the negatives and focus on the positives. This will help create a positive mindset that allows you to focus on competing and training well without the distraction of energy sapping doubt and anxiety.

It is a good idea to spend some time practicing thinking through the positive items on the list.

The stop/clap technique is a way of stopping negative self talk and replacing it with positive.

When you catch yourself dragging yourself down with negative thinking or talking; take the following steps.

  1. Say STOP, make a noise by CLAPPING or similar and visualise a big red STOP sign - this is to distract your mind and stop the negative thinking;
  2. Visualise your Winning Image - make it clear and feel happy about the success it depicts, feel the success;
  3. Work through your list of positive things, taking time to believe in each one.

After you have gone through this process you can continue your pre competition routine and look forward to a much more successful performance.

Of course, they may be times when you don’t want to clap and shout STOP or when it may be impractical such as if you are working hard in a competition trying to hang on to a given pace. At these times you can think it and say STOP to yourself before moving on to step 2.

It is important to practice this skill and the more you practice the better you will get and the more effectively you will be able to use the technique. Also, the more you practice the more you will be replacing the negative thoughts and beliefs with positive, thus reducing the likelihood of being over taken by negative self talk in the first place.

 

Other things

There are many other things that working on psychology can improve such as:

  • Excessive anxiety - can have surprisingly powerful debilitating physiological effects, some arousal is useful to sporting performance but too much can be very negative:
    • In skill based sports such as golf it can become impossible to control one’s movements due to tension and shakes;
    • In other sports debilitating panic attacks can result from overwhelming anxiety that seriously hampers performance;
    • This can sometimes be similar to or induced by negative self talk and therefore helped using a similar technique to the stop/clap approach.
  • Limiting beliefs - people are often limited by what they believe is possible. For example, it took a long time for someone to run a mile in less than 4 minutes but once Roger Bannister had broken that boundary a number of others did so and the mile record reduced more rapidly. People were not fitter they just realised that running faster was possible.
  • Fears - people are often limited by their fears. This can be a fear of failure that results in inventing excuses not to even try or reasons that something is not possible or fear of injury such as that associated with running down a difficult off road descent. In reality, fear is likely to increase the chances of failure or falling so working on these fears is likely to pay dividends.

If you find these ideas useful but have difficulty with the exercises, you can do these exercises with a non-judgemental and supportive friend who can help you be objective and affirm the outcomes of the exercises. Alternatively, a few sessions with a professional with experience in sports psychology can pay significant dividends and although not yet mainstream, hypnotic techniques can be very effective in reinforcing positive habits and thinking. We at John Hampshire Coaching have seen and helped many people think and perform differently.

Your mind is probably the most important thing for success and you have gone a long way to putting a successful mindset in place. If you don’t believe in the value of making the commitment to yourself to take part in your sport you are unlikely to succeed, in fact you may find it difficult to practice or train at all so it is good to be positive, take yourself seriously and take pride in what you are doing.

Have fun and please let me know what you think.

John