Distance Running Is 90% Mental, The Rest Is In Your Head.

“Mental toughness is the capacity to reliably perform at your best regardless of external conditions, distractions, or internal emotions.”- Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter

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I love this definition. Mental toughness is key for racing any distance from 5km to 160km. A 5 km requires the ability to redline for a significant amount of time. Alex Hutckison, author of Endure, describes it like holding your finger over a flame. It takes focus and resilience to stay there, right where it hurts. In the long races, it’s battling the bodies desire to quit when you’ve got hours behind you and hours ahead of you. Whether you’re trying to hit a new distance or a new speed, being mentally tough can be the difference between reaching your goal or not. 
 
Here are my 5 best tips for improving mental toughness in training and racing. 
 

  1. Learn about the Central Governor Theory, and then beat it

This theory by Tim Naokes is based on the idea that the mind will try and shut your body down before it does damage to itself, so we feel fatigue. We know it as the edge of our comfort zone. It’s usually the time we stop and walk, but in reality, we can push far past that long before we hurt ourselves. 
 
North Americans generally work to make life as cozy as we can. The second we feel discomfort, we change it. A small chill we put on a sweater, a little bit hungry, there is food on any corner. Rarely are we in a situation where we are at our limit. When translated into running, this means that when we get to the point where it starts to hurt we tend to want to slow down or stop to walk immediately. We want to get comfortable again. 
 
Being mentally tough means recognizing this, and deciding you don’t have to listen. This takes practice. You have to get to a place in training where you really hurt. When you get there, try thinking about it objectively. It’s just pain, it’s just fatigue, it’s just in your head. Maybe you don’t need to stop yet, you can push past the discomfort. 
 
You can practice playing with your limits in the sauna and cold showers. Wait until that moment when you really want to jump out of the freezing water and just hold on. Even for 5 seconds. Push past that boundary, and eventually you’ll expand your comfort zone. 

2.   Visualize

Visualization is a common performance tool in athletics. We are told to mentally see ourselves running well, feeling strong, and having the race of our lives. The key, however, is to also practice the worst parts. See yourself at mile 20 of a marathon, when the pain really starts to set in and you know you have a reasonable distance left. Think about suffering up a hill, and see yourself pushing past that and keeping the pace. Use this visualization to teach yourself that no matter what you face, you keep on going—even when the going gets tough. Make it a habit. 

3.   Make the race smaller 

 
Being tough also means being smart. There are ways to hack your thoughts so you can better control your emotions. Making the race smaller is key. If I toed the line of a 50mile and thought about the full day ahead of me, it would be impossible not to feel overwhelmed. The race has to be broken down. One aid station to the next. Sometimes just the next tree. Whatever your brain can handle, run that race.  

4.   Positive thoughts and self- talk  

 
When I was preparing for my longest run to date (100miles), the most common question I got was, “what are the chances you don’t make it”?
 
I never knew how to answer. That thought had never crossed my mind. Not once. 
 
I knew I was physically capable and the rest would be mental. It’s an old cliché but it’s bang on, “whether you think you can or you can't, you’re right.”
 
Don’t just think that you can, know that you can. 
 
Once the race starts, keep up the positivity. Speak to yourself positively. It’s that simple. 

5.   Smile 

 
It sounds a little ridiculous, I know, but it works. Pain, fatigue, the desire to stop, these are all due to the mind’s perception of what you are feeling. If you force yourself to smile, your mind suddenly thinks you’re having FUN, and then your perception of how hard you’re working lessens. Once you trick your mind, you’ll feel the physical benefits and it will actually be easier to run. Less pain and easier strides equal faster runners. 
 
Master your mind and you’ll your most outlandish goals become reachable. The best part is that having an unstoppable mindset translates into your entire life.

Performance, recovery, and weight loss, can you have it all

Maybe you’ve just signed up for your first 10km, or you’re trying to qualify for Boston. You’re sure that all this additional cardio will cause you to drop a few pounds and you’ll be running your best in no time. Not so fast. It can be a bit of a rude awakening if you realize that you’re not losing any weight, or even putting on few extra lbs. So why does this happen? 
 
Let me first say that I am far more concerned with what my body can do than how it looks. But, when you want to run well, it does hinder performance when you have to carry excess weight - so there is strategic benefit to being leaner.
 
If you ask any trainer how to lose weight, nearly every single one of them will say focus on H.I.I.T and lifting heavy weights.
 
Running certainly burns through a lot of calories while you’re doing it, but it doesn’t keep your metabolic rate up afterwards as much as heavy lifting or H.I.I.T. In addition to that, distance running can leave you feeling starving that night or the next day. Because of this, you’ll probably consume more calories on your actual WO day, and burn less the following day.
 
It is possible to lose weight when training for a marathon without compromising your recovery and strength, but it’s not easy. This fall, I had to drop 12 lbs for a fight, at the same time that I was training for a 100 mile run. In order to make weight for the fight I had to lose 1 lb a week, and of course I was running long distances to train for the race. I’m not one for unhealthy diet tricks or skimping on recovery, so during this process I dialled in on a few healthy ways to keep both goals on track.
 
Here are my top 8 tips to help cut the pounds.

1. No booze

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Yup, this one sucks, I know. Aside from the excess calories, booze will hinder your weight loss by messing with how you metabolize nutrients. Once you consume even a single drink, your body stops burning any other fuel (carbs, fat, or protein) in your system until it’s finished with the alcohol.

 

 

2. Do a few of your workouts fasted 

One or two workouts a week fasted will bump fat loss for the day. When you work out fasted, you are using fat stores for energy instead of the immediate supply of glucose from your meal.

3. Get cold 

The main point here is that your body burns extra calories while trying to keep warm. On a more detailed level, when your body is cold it activates brown fat, which burns through calories trying to acclimatize to the temperature. Never heard of brown fat? Get a deeper look here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699856/.

4. On race day or long run day you must EAT                                                      

Fuel during the race, fuel after, just eat. You know you need to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight, but this doesn’t need to be every day. If you’re overall consumption for the week is lower than what you put out, you’re still in a deficit. Fuel during races, demanding long runs, or any excessive training days. Trust me on this one, if you skimp on big days, you’ll end up too far in a hole and it may lead to a binge later in the week. Fuel your body! Remember, performance is your first goal.

5. Track your macros

You need to be 100% aware of what is in your body. Make sure your protein is up, your fats are within reason, and your carbs are timed around your workouts. I can almost eyeball a meal and get within 5 grams of my macros at this point, and I still lack protein when I’m not focused. Track for a few weeks, make sure you’re hitting your protein goals and are dialled in on what you’re consuming. It’s also really easy to overestimate intake of peanut butter and other high density foods. While they are healthy and beneficial, a serving size is actually only 15grams, which is far less than the standard kitchen spoon.
 
** need help setting up your macro goals? Email me and we will get you sorted

6. Mix in a strength training day

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Strength training is key for weight loss. Lifting will ramp up your metabolic rate throughout the day. Multi joint movements and high tempo lifting will double as a cardio workout at the same time as creating more lean muscle mass. They won’t leave you as hungry at the end of the day, plus you’ll burn more calories when sitting later. It’s a double whammy.

7. Yerba Mate tea 

All the energy of coffee but rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. According to https://bebrainfit.com it may help burn fat by by ‘reducing appetite, increasing energy expenditure, improving insulin sensitivity, and burning stored fat.’  https://bebrainfit.com/yerba-mate-benefits/.  Whenever I’m cutting weight, I consume only one cup of coffee and stick to Yerbe Mate tea for the rest of the day.

8. Consider the smashed phone rule 

If you dropped your phone and it got a tiny crack, would you decide, ‘ah well it’s already broken I might as well run it over?’ Probably not. Apply the same principal to your nutrition. If you eat a cookie or have a drink, just return to your plan, you have not completely broken yourself with that one slip!
 
Just remember that if your goal is performance, you need to fuel your body first and foremost. Try these tips, but be sure to listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs! 

 

The Power Hike

A good friend of mine from my hockey days is running a 50km trail race this summer. This person is a serious athlete and one of the best hockey players I know. Since she’s an elite athlete I assumed the fundamentals of race strategy would be innate knowledge for her. During our conversation, however, she said, “but I have to hike the up hills, so it’s not really a run for me.” “Hold up,” I said, “You are NOT supposed to run the up all of the hills. You are doing it right. Power hiking is a more efficient & more time effective strategy.”

 

A trail race of any distance is almost guaranteed to have a few steep accents during the course. Attempting to run fast up these hills will empty your gas tank in a hurry, and worse than that, you’ll often find that you’re not even moving much faster!

 

Solution?

 

Master the art of the power hike. Power hiking is different from regular hiking, first and foremost because you are still attacking that hill with purpose. Secondly, you’re using your entire body to get up the trail as efficiently as possible. Here are a few key tips to help you master the power hike.

 

1.     Lean forward

In order to properly use your body you have to lean forward. A great system is to try to keep your upper body parallel to the grade of the ground. You’ll be able to fight gravity most efficiently in this position. As a bonus, it uses different muscles and might give you a little more pop in your run post climb.

 

2.     Use your hands

Look through photos of trail races and you often see racers using poles. On climbs, the poles help runners push off the ground and make their steps more powerful. However, many races don’t allow poles, so while you’re power hiking you can use your arms to create the same effect. Try this by putting your hands on your knees and pushing into your legs as you climb.   

 

3.     Practice

Power hiking isn’t terribly complicated, but it should be practiced before race day. The downside of the power hike is that you’re in a more crunched over position and may find that your back gets sore or that you’re not able to fill your lungs to capacity. Spend a little time even once a week on your power hiking form so that you’re not caught off guard during the race.

 

4.     Get comfortable with your own timing

One of the most difficult things during a race is forgetting your own strategy and getting caught up in what the guy next to you is doing. Practice a few longer runs and get comfortable and confident on the grade that you’ll be hiking, deciding when to run and when to slow down.

 

5.     Practice the transition

When you get to the top of a steep hike and the road flattens out, use that flat to run! This is a fitness component as well, so must be practiced in training. There are often few flats to pick up speed during a trail race, so be sure to use them all to your advantage.

 

Where to start - Get out there and give it a try!