Mental Motivation: eight ways to stay focused on your running training plan

In 2023, Buxton is proud to partner with Mind to support the sweat and tears of 15 Rise Up Runners. 15 real people, each facing their own physical and mental struggles, who are bravely taking on the ultimate test of resilience: The London Marathon. We’ve enlisted the help of professional running coach Keith Anderson to share his top training pointers to help them and you prepare physically and mentally for the big day.

A good training plan is about more than just gradually running longer distances. It’s about working out the right training load for you, one that’s manageable and will allow you to stay motivated and avoid injury setbacks. And it should involve variety with some easier runs and some harder, all of them tailored to physiologically prepare you for the event that you’re training for. As Anderson stresses: “I think understanding your training is really important. It means that every time you put your own shoes out, you know why you’re putting them on what you’re trying to achieve with a particular run.”

There are obvious merits to running with a partner or a group: the sense of community and camaraderie, the chat and the jokes. And it’s brilliant for motivation. But as Anderson points out, “you need to make sure that the training is for you.” In his late 30s he went to Kenya and trained with superb athletes including the great steeplechaser Moses Kiptanui. “I was training with people way better than I was and although I tried to do my training I ended up doing their training, which wasn’t the smartest idea I ever had”. If you run with someone make sure they’re either on your level or willing to train at your level so you don’t end up fatigued or injured.

One of the ways to keep focused is to build short races and time trials into your wider training plan. Anderson recommends picking a short run – maybe a 5km Parkrun – and doing it at regular intervals throughout your wider training. “You should be able to see some progress in your results and that helps maintain motivation and keeps you interested.”

To maintain the kind of mental sharpness required to stay focused on your training plan, you need to stay hydrated. “When you’re dehydrated you get grumpy and lethargic, so make sure you drink plenty of water. When you’re running you want to drink small sips, not big gulps. But staying properly hydrated is about more than just drinking while you run. You need to keep on top of it pre-training, during training and post-training.”

It’s important to remember that your training plan is about the sum of its parts, not the individual sessions. “You’ll have good sessions. You’ll have bad sessions. And you’ll have ugly sessions.” The trick is not to allow yourself to get on an emotional roller coaster. “You have to remember that even if your training plan is right, and you’re training at the correct intensity, you might not always like the figures that you see. Don’t get fixated on it. You get the gold medal when you test yourself properly in a race.”

Obviously running should be the central plank of your training but adding some variety – such as conditioning and mobility sessions – is about more than just keeping things interesting. “There’s a real advantage of doing some cross training to lessen the impact on your body of repeating one action over and over. Aqua jogging, swimming, elliptical training, Pilates, and yoga are all good.” And of course, it’s vitally important to take rest days to help your body and mind to recover. Set realistic goals that aren’t based around your weight or shape. Not every day will lead to a personal best, and that’s OK. Aim for balance – it might be helpful to keep a training diary to ensure you’re getting the right mix and to focus on how your training makes you feel.

It’s easy to see the training as a chore, particularly if it’s raining or you’ve had a stressful week at work. But as Anderson says, if you want a positive outlook on race day you need to develop one in training. And that means stopping feeling sorry for yourself, and reminding yourself that running is a privilege that isn’t available to all. “I think it’s better to train without music. That way you’re not distracted and you’re properly present and dealing with the trials and challenges of training. That’s going to help you an awful lot in a race.”

Motivating yourself to do your first marathon is one thing – you’re trying to scale the heights for the first time and the reward is obvious. Motivating yourself for the second one, or indeed the 22nd, is another matter entirely. But as Anderson points out: “Every marathon is different. But they’re all exciting and a bit terrifying because 26.2 miles is always a long way.” The worst thing you can do is imagine that your muscle memory will kick in and you’ll be able to coast along. For all subsequent marathons you need to refocus, work out what you got, right, what you got wrong. “The first one was the learning curve. The second one is where you can really crack on and make some inroads into performance.”

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