Marathon Mania: Running on empty
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There was more fizzle than bang in my run this week as I was struck with a case of the runner's blues. I hit the snooze button repeatedly, missed my runs, and made up excuses during speed sessions to avoid finishing all the repetitions.
Training for a marathon requires time, effort and a high pain tolerance - not to mention focus and determination - so it's not surprising the inspiration to run is lacking.
Fatigue and depression are ultimately a way for our body to protect itself from overtraining, says Jiang Xiaobo, sport psychology officer at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. Runners of any stage and ability are susceptible.
"Our brain is always monitoring stress throughout our mind-body network and when it increases to a level that our brain senses as too high, it shifts into 'protection mode' to trigger a series of conscious and subconscious actions that result in low motivation, burnout, pain and loss of focus," he says.
The first step in avoiding a dip in motivation is to get real with yourself, says Jiang. "Don't aim too high or be unrealistic," he says. While it's important to set goals, biting off more than you can chew may leave a negative impression, making it tougher to find the motivation to keep going.
Next, find the true source of your inspiration, says mental health and sports performance counsellor, Laura Walsh.
"You need to have a big why," says the former Hong Kong triathlete. A sense of achievement, a cause, competition, and often vanity, are common motivators to run, says Walsh. "But vanity alone cannot be enough. You need another reason to get out there."
Make a habit of it Schedule in your runs every week so they become part of your routine, says Walsh. "Habit is everything. If you can do it at the same time every day, it becomes a habit just like brushing your teeth," she says.
Be accountable Log your training so you can see progress. "It's inevitable you will hit points in your training, where any gains are small and incremental.
Having a log will show your development, no matter how seemingly insignificant," she says. Plus, you will feel guilty for not filling in the blanks each week. Adding extra details, such as how you felt, perceived effort, conditions and nutrition may also help you to establish patterns and identify what went wrong.
Buddy up "You should never underestimate the power of social motivation," says Walsh. It's harder to let up on your training when someone else is involved.
A running buddy, coach or joining a running group will help you stick to your training goals and provide you with extra support.
Set small goals along the way "Give yourself opportunities to win little victories along the way," says Walsh. Signing up for a small race before the big day or cracking a personal best will help you to stay engaged. "Make sure your targets are achievable but still challenging," she says.
Get your training in early Willpower is like a muscle and you can only exercise it so much on a daily basis, according to Walsh. "If you have a tough job that is going to suck you dry by the end of the day, you're not going to have enough willpower to go out for that run," she says. Schedule in your training sessions early to take advantage of your early morning resolve.
Look after your health and get enough sleep "The level of your willpower relates to your diet and sleep deprivation," says Walsh. The more tired you are, the less motivation you are going to have and the less you will feel recovered. Aim for eight hours sleep a night and take it easy on yourself during intense training, skipping booze and late night revelries. "You only get out what you put in," she says.
Buy a new running outfit "Even if I'm not supposed to run that day, I can't resist if I have a new pair of running shoes," says Walsh. The better you look and feel in your running gear, the bigger the spring in your stride.
Visualise "Come up with a good mantra that can keep your brain anchored to your goals in tough times," says Walsh. According to sports motivation guru and author of Lore of Running, Tim Noakes, our brains will tell us to give up before our body will, so it's important to keep a strong mindset to withstand the low moments.
Visualisation techniques - such as imagining yourself running over the finish line and focusing on the positive feelings that follow - will help you overcome the urge to quit. But it doesn't work if you only do it once, Walsh says. "You have to keep up the positive mental imagery daily. It's like training in itself."
Mix up your training They say change is as good as a rest. "Incorporating some cross-training will help to build your cardiovascular fitness while being a little easier on your body," says Walsh. "Our bodies are adaptable and get really good at doing one thing, such as running." A shake-up will help stimulate and build different muscles in the body while keeping things interesting.
Couch time If all else fails, give yourself a break, as you probably need it.
"There is nothing worse than losing your mojo or dreading your workout," says Walsh. "Besides, tomorrow is always another chance to go for a run."
Marathon Mania is a 12-week series leading up to the Hong Kong Marathon on February 24. For more preparation tips, go to facebook.com/hkmarathon