Dec 042015

Is setting a goal time and then working out splits to achieve along the way the best way to approach a race? Is time the best means of measuring your success?

UTMB race plan - I was over an hour down at half way !

UTMB race plan – I was over an hour down at half way

A goal can be defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”. Is the finishing time really the object of your ambition or desired result?

If we set a time goal and for the sake of putting it in context lets say a goal of breaking 14 hours for a 100km trail race; are there conditions where not achieving this goal could still result in a successful race ? Could you finish faster than 14 hours and be disappointed?

What if you had one of those races where everything went right , you felt great all day and nothing went wrong , you crossed the finish line 100% spent unable to go a second faster but the clock said 14.20 . Should you be disappointed you didn’t meet your goal time?

What about if you crossed the line in 13.30 but spent over 45 minutes at checkpoints , had a crook stomach for a third of the race, and crossed the line feeling like you could have gone much quicker . Is the fact you went sub 14 enough to give you that post race glow of a job well done?
Continue reading »

Nov 072014

Do you look out the window watching the rain pour down and start to dread your run?

Does looking out the window before a run and seeing this fill you with dread?

Does looking out the window before a run and seeing this fill you with dread?

Clients often ask me what to do if the weather is “bad” for a particular training session. I’m not exactly sure what “bad” weather is. If you are looking for a sport that’s only played in “good” weather then you should have taken up cricket!

Trail races are run in the heat, through snow, in freezing cold, pouring rain, gale forced winds, blast furnace heat and oppressive humidity. Performing well in these environments means you have to be comfortable in those environments. Continue reading »

Nov 042011

We all know that the goals we set ourselves should follow the S.M.A.R.T principle . Specific, measurable, achievable , realistic and have a timeframe. We think of anyone who sets unrealistic goals as having a few screws loose in their head.

So imagine the response from an experienced Everest mountaineering guide when he was approached by a completely blind man who wanted a guide to help him climb Mt Everest.

Or the Director of a company who was approached for sponsorship of several £100,000 for an expedition involving two men pulling sleds weighing over 200kgs each, over a distance of 2500 km across the Antarctic continent, something no-one had even come close to achieving before.

One of the most ridiculous ideas I have heard recently was from a 47 year old man with no history of running ,who trained for 5 weeks and then attempted to run 43 marathons in 51 days.

Lunatic! What on earth was he thinking. People train for months or years and struggle to finish one marathon and he thought that 5 weeks training would be enough to get him through 43 in 51 days. Complete nutter obviously, with no idea at all about how hard it would be.

All of these goals are completely unrealistic by anyone’s definition except for the individual’s involved. Despite what everyone else thought, they were convinced that they at least had a chance of achieving them and for them that was enough to warrant making an attempt.

Saying you are going to do something and actually doing it are two different things. Did our totally unrealistic goal setters come anywhere close to achieving their goal?

On May 25 2001 Eric Weihenmayer became the first blind person to summit Mt Everest.

In March 1992, ninety three days after setting out, Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud crossed the entire Antarctic continent unsupported.

The 47 year old trying to run 43 marathons in 51 days – well he was and still is a complete nutter but on September 15th 2009 British comedian Eddie Izzard completed his 43rd and final marathon in 51 days.

If these people set realistic goals they never would have achieved what most people would say is impossible. They set completely unrealistic goals then found a way to make them possible. They sacrificed a lot, suffered a lot and took some big risks but to them it was worth it.

In the words of Michelangelo “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it , but that it is too low and we reach it. ” Too often we sell ourselves way short of what we are capable of.

T.S. Eliot once said “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

You never know what you can achieve unless you try. Don’t let your own beliefs or other peoples beliefs put you off.

When setting yourself goals, allow yourself to dream a bit. Play out the “what if I could achieve anything I set my mind to ” scenario in your head. Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. If you find something that really inspires you then investigate it further and see what you would need to do to make it a reality.

Once you understand the sacrifices, risks and time commitment necessary you can then determine if it is still a goal you want to pursue.

For example finishing a marathon is a fantastic achievement and one that many people would love to say they have done but a lot less people are willing to undertake the training and suffer the pain that it will undoubtedly involve.

There is nothing wrong with this, it just means achieving that goal is not as important as other aspects in your life.

If you decide that the hard work and sacrifices would be worth it (sometimes you dont know and it is a risk you have to take) then the next step is to start getting realistic. Break down the big goal into smaller realistic goals.

You don’t even need to believe that you can achieve your big goal as long as you believe that you can achieve the smaller goals along the way. Break any goal down into small bite size believable chunks.

As some of you know I run Ultramarathons and before my first race of 155km , my longest training run was 75km. Trying to mentally deal with the fact that the race was twice as far as I had run in training was difficult so I broke it down into smaller sections of less than 20km. At the end of each section I forced myself to forget about how far I had come and how far I still had to go and just focused on the next achievable section. Mentally I could cope with the thought of running another 10-20km as long as I ignored the fact I had already run 60,70,80km beforehand and the fact that there was still another 40,50,60km to go.

Achieving a progression of small believable goals allows you to realise big seemingly unbelievable goals.

Here’s my three rules on goal setting.

1. Don’t be afraid to dream of achieving remarkable things.
2. Work out what is necessary to achieve your goal and then determine if you are prepared to do what it takes and make the necessary sacrifices.
3. Break down what you need to do into smaller realistic goals. Don’t think about how far there is left to go or how far you have come, focus only on what you have to do next.

4. Believe in yourself even if no-one else does.

Sorry that’s four but the fourth one is the most important.

I would love to hear about your goals for the next year or so. I am always inspired by hearing other people’s goals. Sometimes the most inspiring are not the people doing the incredible news worthy challenges but people taking on seemingly small challenges that are well outside their comfort zone.

Whatever you goals are, whether they are physical, mental, financial or something else, believe in yourself and find a way to make it happen.

Jan 092010

So 2009 has finished and we set out on another year. Another year of new years resolutions that we forget about by February. Another year, which at the end of, looks very similar to the one just gone. If you had the perfect year then another year like that would be fantastic. Most of us however didn’t have a perfect year and given the chance would change a few things about it. Many of us would like to have been fitter, healthier, leaner, stronger and injury free.

The funny thing is at the start of last year thats exactly what we said we were going to do. 2009 was going to be the year we lost that weight, exercised more, stretched regularly, ate healthily and generally got ourselves to a point where we could look in the mirror and be happy with what we saw and be happy with how we felt. What happened? Why didn’t we get to that point in 2009. Actually didn’t we say that in 2008 and 2007 …. and 2006 …. !

You can see a pattern emerging can’t you.Dont let 2010 be another year that passes by to find yourself in the same condition as you were at the end of 2009.

Of course if you are fit and healthy and happy with the way your body looks and feels then congratulations. You’ve achieved something that many haven’t. You will have realised it actually wasn’t that hard once you got into the swing of it. Eating healthy and exercising regularly is something you look forward to and you find it easy to motivate yourself because you not only enjoy the benefits but you also enjoy the process.

If you are one of those people no need for you to read on. Keep up the good work and may you be an inspiration to your friends and family.

Ok so all of you still reading aren’t happy with certain aspects of your health and fitness and want to make this year the time that something actually changes, permanently, not one of those short term weight loss things where you end up putting it all back on again.

Be a Different Person

So how is this year going to be any different to last year? Well the usual approach is to tell yourself to try harder. Whilst thats admirable it is not very effective.
The secret to making big changes to your health and fitness (or any aspect of your life for that matter) is to start thinking differently. To start being a different person.

There is a saying in sport that if you want to be an elite athlete you have to think like an elite athlete and train like an elite athlete. If you want to be fit and healthy then you need to think like a fit and healthy fit person and train like a fit and healthy person.

Start thinking your way to a fitter healthier you

A fit and healthy person doesn’t think “I wish I could have that bit of chocolate cake”. They don’t make excuses why they cant get to the gym they make excuses so they can get to the gym. They don’t look at a menu and think “I really want the fish and chips but I suppose I should have the salmon” They choose the salmon because it tastes better and they feel good after they’ve eaten it instead of bloated and fat.
They place a high priority on exercise, eating healthily and getting 8 hours sleep. They aren’t afraid of saying no to people every now and then. “No I cant go out drinking on a Monday night- thats my gym night “, “No I’m sorry I cant take on that extra job as I am already very busy and if I take on anything else I’ll have to give up my exercise for this week”.

I think you get the idea. They place a very high priority eating well and exercising.
Changing the way you think is not as hard as it sounds. To start thinking like a fit and healthy person you simply have to ask yourself what a fit and healthy person would do in a particular situation? So there you are at the coffee shop and the cake selection looks very tempting, what do you do? Well ask yourself what would a fit and healthy person do in this situation? Would they pick out the best looking piece of cake and have a cappuccino with two sugars or would they skip the cake altogether, have a herbal tea and buy some nuts and seeds to snack on? Maybe they might have a skinny late and a low fat muffin every now and then but you get the idea.

The more you do this the easier it becomes until one day the thought process becomes automatic.If you want to be a new person then you have to change the way you think to that of the new person.

Make it Permanent

People who are fit and healthy see healthy eating and exercise as a permanent way of life and not a short term thing.The only way it can become a permanent way of life is if you can enjoy the process of getting fit and healthy. To many of us are so focussed on the goal we lose sight of the journey.

There’s another saying that goes something like “When you are climbing a mountain don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views on the way”. If you look at food for example, a chef enjoys the process of preparing food just as much as eating the finished product. If you talk to any elite marathoners the one thing they have in common is they all love to run. Sure it’s great to compete and win medals etc but essentially they all just love to run. How else could you motivate yourself to run over 120miles per week if you only liked racing and didn’t actually enjoy running in training.

If you hate running for example but have taken up running to lose some weight I would recommend that if after a month or two you still hate running then you should give it up and find some other way to lose weight as it is very difficult to motivate yourself to do something you hate doing for the rest of your life.

Enjoy your Exercise

Finding an exercise routine that you enjoy is the key to making permanent changes to the way you look and feel. Obviously there are some days where you are going to struggle to motivate yourself. We all have those days but if you have created a habit then it creates a momentum which is hard to resist. Even though you feel really tired you find yourself walking through the doors at the gym out of habit.

So this year teach yourself to think like someone who is already fit and healthy and find food and exercise that you enjoy and see what a difference it makes.

May 122009

>All of us will set out to achieve something and for any number of reasons not succeed. Some of us will give up and decide it’s too hard, others will continue to try but never actually realise the goal and a select few will try again and eventually succeed in what they set out to do. What is the difference between the people who do and the people who don’t, and how can you make sure you are one of the people who do?

Failure is the key to success

One thought process that differs between the people who succeed and the people who don’t is how they view failure. Michael Jordan the American Basketball legend is quoted as saying “ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

How has missing the game winning shot made him a better player? Successful people look at failure not as failure but as a learning experience, a chance to analyse what they did well and areas they can improve. So because they “failed” they have the chance to improve themselves to become even better. In this way “failure” becomes a very positive experience. Missing the game winning shot has driven Jordan to practice more and more so when the situation happens again he increases his chances of making that winning shot.

This approach works well when the reason for you not succeeding (I’m going to stop saying failure now as you only fail at something if you don’t even try) is purely down to you. Often the reason you didn’t succeed is not directly connected with anything within your control. This can be harder to deal with as there is nothing you can do that could control the situation so how can you prevent it happening again?

Never, ever give up

To illustrate the point I’d like to relate my own experience in trying to qualify for the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. I had a two year plan to achieve this – compete in the qualifying race in year one to get a feel for the race and what is required and then qualify in year 2. I gave up full time work so I could concentrate on training, gave up alcohol completely, gave up any form of a normal social life, was in bed by 9.30pm seven nights a week and up at 5am, ate a very low fat healthy diet, trained 25-30 hours per week and did everything I could to get my body into the best condition possible.

Year one of the plan went according to script and by the time I lined up to race in year 2 I was very confident I had done all that was required to qualify. However half way through the bike leg a bolt on my bike snapped in half causing a 45 minute mechanical delay ending my chances of qualifying.Undaunted I went back in year three only to be bitten by wasps 5 times the day before the race( I’m hypersensitive to insect bites),the result of which was to have me feeling as if my face was going numb , feeling dizzy and nauseous and seeing spots in front of my eyes half way through the race, consequently ending any chance of posting a good time. Year four I was back again and had a great race but missed out on qualifying as the qualifying times had improved due to an influx of overseas competitors. The time I did would have qualified me in every single race over the last 10 years except this one. Another year of training had me back for year five and finally I finished in a time that left no doubt that I would qualify.

Why did I keep going back and not give up? The biggest factors were passion, belief and persistence. I wanted to qualify more than I’d wanted anything else in my life and had the belief that I was good enough to achieve this. If you don’t have the passion and desire to achieve your goal you will never succeed. Every time I missed out on qualifying I re-assessed how important qualifying was to me and my belief in my own abilities and each time decided that the passion was even stronger than before. I knew that I had the ability so it was only a matter of time before it happened. If I hadn’t achieved it in the fifth year then I would have kept going back until I had.

So when for reasons beyond your control you don’t achieve the results you’re after assess how much you want to achieve your goal and why you want it. If it’s important to you then try again and again and again until you achieve it.

Bit off more than you can chew?

What about if you’re not even sure you can achieve your goal? Maybe you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Highly ambitious goals that really challenge us are a means of really living life to the fullest. The sense of purpose, direction and ultimately, fulfilment in achieving these big goals is what life is really all about. It may be to run a marathon, to lose a large amount of weight, finish a triathlon, climb Mt Everest or just trek to base camp – whatever it is you’ll never feel more alive than when you’ve realised one of these types of goals.

But how do you get the belief you can achieve these goals if they are so ambitious? If you have the passion and you know why your goal is so important to you then you need to break these big goals down to small, manageable, believable chunks. If you want to run a marathon but have never run before then you obviously will have no evidence that you can run that far to feed your belief. Break it down and ask yourself – “Could I run for 5 minutes?”, if you can believe that then that’s a great start, 5 minutes becomes 10 minutes becomes 30 minutes etc. Small believable steps are vitally important to keep you on track.

Practice makes perfect or does it?

If you train hard and consistently and you don’t get the results you want then continuing to train the same way is even more unlikely to bring about the results you want. Practice makes you good at what you are practicing, if you want to be better or create more of a change then you need to change the way you practice (or train in this case).

Typically we do the same things in our training week in week out and wonder why we are not improving much. Compare it to learning a language, when you first start learning,n counting to 10 is an achievement but very quickly this becomes easy so we progress and count to 20 then 30 etc etc. It makes sense that you can’t become better at speaking a foreign language if all we do is count to te. We may be very good at counting to ten but that is not the goal. Why then do we think that training our body is different? Why do we assume that doing the same exercises in the gym will continue to bring about change? Why do we think by running the same distance and time will somehow makes us faster of be able to run for longer? It makes no sense at all. If you want to improve then you need to make your training program progressively more difficult.

Many people think that elite athletes find their training easy – as if the more training you do the easier everything gets. The reality is one of the reasons they are elite is every time training becomes easy they change it and make it harder forcing their bodies to continually adapt to the training.

Make sure you training is increasing in difficulty and complexity to ensure you continue to achieve the results you are after.