Avoid Over-Racing

In Alex Teuten’s article for this week’s Athletics Weekly1, the BUCS cross country champion cautions against racing too often. The article, entitled Losing the Love, details Teuten’s recent struggles to maintain mental sharpness for races.

It’s apparent that racing calendars can become too packed even for international athletes.

I’ve noticed even runners at my running club race too frequently. I was surprised as a runner, and concerned as a coach, to find this to be so prevalent. I’m extremely doubtful that racing often, sometimes every week, is a beneficial strategy for long-term success. It simply requires so much mental and physical energy. That’s why I’ve never done it myself.

Listening to certain runners’ upcoming schedules has made me more stoic. I can’t rid myself of rational questions like “How can you get the most out of yourself if you don’t allow enough time to recover from peak performances?” and “Can running at a sub-optimal level for too many races ever truly satisfy an ambitious runner?”.

I remember reading that renowned professor Tim Noakes2 advises runners should limit their racing to a maximum of 100 miles per year. If runners exceed this, and in my opinion get close, there is a real risk that the enthusiasm for the sport will lead to either two outcomes. Injury or mental exhaustion. Most likely both.

It’s true that I’ve never been an incessant racer. The most races I’ve competed during a calendar year is five, back in 2016. Although it was a breakthrough year for my running I found that by the end I needed rest. I had only accumulated 70.5 racing miles. On reflection I feel I was fortunate that my performances reflected my high ambitions at the time, and that I suffered no notable injuries.

But don’t mistake my focusing on only a few races per year as a sign of weakness or lack of love for the sport. As a competitor I can relate to many of the runners in my club. I would love to race more if I knew it could help my running. On a purely emotional level, I would certainly try. But a subconscious fear of over-racing has always been a factor in my choices as to when to give my best efforts.

Spending more time experimenting in training and pursuing two or three important race goals during the year has been a far more effective method for my improvement in the sport, both mentally and physically.

As a coach I know that sustainable, incremental progress best avoids long-term lay-offs, which should be the overriding aim of all runners. It’s this knowledge that prevents me from joining other highly motivated runners on the start line most weekends.


 

Published on 26th April 2018.
2 Lore of Running (2003, 4th ed.) published by Human Kinetics.

How to Run for Life

The overriding reason you should run is simple.
You love the sport. In other words running should fill you with joy.
This reason cannot be overstated.

There will inevitably be other motivations to run. These could include financial gain, social status and/or club glory. But these should be additional benefits – if they even matter to you.

Instead, more consideration should be made towards fitness, companionship and even challenge, such as testing yourself in competition. These factors can enhance the experience of the sport. Again, only if you feel this is personally beneficial.

You should also run predominantly for yourself. It may appear obvious but when you run, you are using your own body and mind, and nobody else’s. This means that unless you understand your own body and mind, running can be self-destructive, such as in the case of severe overtraining or self-induced injury.

Other runners, and non-runners, can certainly inspire you to continue running (and even to get you started), but they cannot, and should not, affect every run you complete.

To be truly fulfilled you must be autonomous with your choice to pound the pavements.

I have never believed that running is a selfish act, despite the self-centred approach of the sport compared to, say, team sports.

Running is a personal pursuit that makes me a more balanced, healthy and stronger person. As long as running does not take so much of your life that there is little other time for anything else, then it can be an empowering and unique tool to gain success.

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect that you will be in the best mood every time you lace up your running shoes. But you should appreciate that choosing to run (or not) is a privilege that not everyone has. By all means use any reason to run on any given day. But if your aim is to run for life then you have to believe that running improves your life, because it is fun.

This is the unwavering foundation of my running. It should be of yours.


This post is inspired by Pure Sport: Practical Sport Psychology (2nd ed., 2013) written by John Kremer and Aidan Moran.

Two Voices in My Running

As a running coach I better appreciate the role of runners and the importance of coaches.

The coaching principles I have learnt and the personal experiences I have enjoyed has given me valuable and new insights into my own running.

As a runner I am responsible for the following:

  • Understanding my body (and being honest when it is not feeling right)
  • Taking ownership of my performance (and reacting in a constructive way for the future)
  • Enjoying my running (and remembering it should never be a cause of stress in my life)
  • Exhibiting a passion for running (and being willing to push my limits to improve)

As a coach I am responsible for the following:

  • Understanding my technique (and being aware of any aspects that are not optimal for performance)
  • Suggesting adjustments in my training (and evaluating the impact and measuring progress)
  • Reminding myself of the reasons I run (and explaining methods of relaxation wherever necessary)
  • Exhibiting an objective viewpoint for my running (and remaining positive about my future prospects)

The two methods I use to make the most of my ‘running’ and ‘coaching’ selves are writing in my running diary daily and holding short internal conversations.

These two ‘personalities’ balance one another, so that I feel confident and assured about myself as a runner, but also stay realistic and humble because I know there is more I want to achieve.

Why I Play Brain Training Games

Ever since I read a book on neuroscience I have routinely trained my mind.

Mental abilities such as concentration, working memory and reaction time all need training if they are to aid athletic performance.

The brain should be worked as much as the leg and arm muscles.

There are a number of important choices every runner has to make during training and racing. These include when to run faster or slower, when to fuel or stop (due to injury), and even when to find motivation or become distracted.

To ensure optimal decision-making your mind must be alert and rational, which requires energy and capacity. The more you train your mind the more efficient it will become.

Practical numeric skills are also useful whilst running, including working out splits, predicting finishing times, and estimating the remaining miles of a race.


The games can become addictive so I limit my sessions to between 10 minutes and half an hour daily. I also switch between a selection of apps to keep the challenges varied and enjoyable.

I use free apps so the only investment I am making is my time. My subconscious need to improve and compete with previous scores ensures meaningful benchmarks.

Consciously building mental strength is essential for mental health today and in the future, and provides a means to unwind from running.

Brain Training Apps

New Advice from Neuroscience

Katwala draws on extensive research to summarise important techniques that improve sports performance. Although many studies refer to the hand-eye coordination of ball sports, the book contains relevant and interesting advice for runners.


Key Findings from Studies

Your vision must be trained as hard as your physique to fulfil your athletic potential. A major difference between amateur and elite athletes is the latter’s ability to track and act upon the slightest of movements.

Your vision is closely related to your mental strength and agility. Thus the stronger the mind, the less stress will drain your energy.

Distraction from any task at hand is better than thinking too much about it. However, visualisation in training can change your physical make-up; thinking of becoming stronger can actually make you stronger.

Sporting Advice

You must learn to transform inevitable nerves into fuel. You can do this by training under controlled self-induced pressure, such as placing an outcome on your performance (reward), adding other mental tasks during your exercise, or modifying your workouts regularly to feel more challenged. All these techniques will build your mental resilience and thus prepare you better for racing conditions.

Sport is a complex pursuit for people to master. To make sporting skills less susceptible to interference by external factors or your conscious mind you need to make actions so implicit that they become instinctual. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, by adopting a positive growth mindset and seeking different circumstances to test your abilities you will develop a strong passion for the sport. Deliberate practice sustained over a long period of time will mean you have a greater chance of success.

Running Advice

Runners give up long before they reach their metabolic and muscular limits. The reason is that they have exhausted their brain. Professor Samuele Marcora explains the ‘psychological model of endurance’, a theory that purports runners must train to reduce their perception of effort.

Tips to reduce the perception of effort include

  • not relying on your watch for every run
  • rinsing your mouth out with a carbohydrate-rich drink
  • smiling as you run and especially after work or a long day
  • controlling your breathing

Playing video games also builds mental stamina because of their repetitive nature, and improves memory and attention span.


This book supports the notion that being an expert in your sport can have its disadvantages. Sometimes having less information (or forgetting what you know) can actually aid performance by ensuring you are focusing on your natural rhythm.

Why Visualise Achieving your Running Goals

If you want to achieve a running goal then you will work towards it.

If it matters enough to you then you will spend more time training. If implemented correctly your efforts will improve your chances of success.

One of the most forgotten exercises in running is visualisation. There are so many reasons to commit to this activity.

Quick – you can spend as little as a minute on this and it will still be effective

Easy – no special knowledge is needed, simply follow the five steps

Free – you do not need to rely on any equipment

Personal – this is completed alone and can be done anywhere, at any time

This technique improves your confidence because it continues to provide you with the clarity of your ambition.

There are many factors that will contribute to you achieving a running goal but no element of your training is more straightforward to implement and offers more focus than visualisation.

It can be done every day, with or without your running shoes on.

5 Steps to Visualising your Running Goals

You deserve the chance to realise your running goals.

You can improve your chances of success by using a visualisation technique. Visualisation is the intentional creation of a mental image.


Step 1: Find a quiet spot where you will not be interrupted.

Step 2: Write down your running goal in one sentence.

[My current running goal is to run the Chelmsford Marathon in less than 3 hours.]

Step 3: Close your eyes.

Step 4: Consider what it would look like if you were watching a video of yourself pursuing your running goal.

[I imagine myself sprinting the last 100m of the upcoming Chelmsford Marathon, with the clock between 2 hours, 58 minutes and 2 hours, 59 minutes.]

Step 5: Take time to imagine every detail of the scene, such as the environment and your appearance.

[I imagine myself in my racing clothes with spectators lining my path to the finish line.]


Use your past experiences and knowledge to guide youI spend between 1 and 5 minutes most days using this visualisation technique.

Experiment with this technique to discover its effect on you.